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Q&A: James Gosling likes the idea of open-source Java

But he's not sure it will happen anytime soon

By Carol Sliwa
June 13, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- If pressed to vote yea or nay, James Gosling said this week at the JavaOne conference here that he would cast his ballot in favor of making core pieces of Java open-source, even though he recognizes that some of his Sun Microsystems Inc. colleagues make strong counterarguments. Excerpts from Computerworld's interview with Gosling, the Sun fellow and vice president who unleashed the programming language eight years ago, follow:

What's the latest thinking on making Java open-source? I am certainly one of the people who would love to make it open-source. But it's hard for two reasons. One is that open-source ways of dealing with software work really well so long as you get this sort of collegial atmosphere. If you happen to have a bully on the block who is really strong, it really doesn't work. We have this history of having been victimized, and there are lots of people who are nervous about that.
The other issue is that when you've got a platform technology like Java, there are really two sides to the community. There are the people who are building the platform, and the people who are using the platform. From the point of view of the people who are using the platform, one of the most valuable things about Java is the consistency, the interoperability. And from the platform providers' side of the world, they feel it's this sort of tension. On the one hand, they just want to go off and do whatever they damn well please. On the other hand, they know that if they did that, they'd be cutting themselves off from some developers.

James Gosling of Sun Microsystems Inc.
James Gosling of Sun Microsystems Inc.
Being involved with interoperability is something that most manufacturers have this love-hate thing with. So we've tended to have our licenses be as close to open-source as we can be, while maintaining the one thing that we really care about, which is interoperability.
Given those arguments, do you still favor open-source for Java? I believe all of those arguments are actually correct. The question for me is, Have we gotten to a point where market pressures will enforce the values of the developer community? Are we someplace where there's no one player who could just take over and be the bully on the block? And I think we're basically there. But different people have different opinions on that.
Could Java go open-source soon? It could conceivably happen soon, although Sun is kind of a funny company. I don't really know what the right word is. We


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