Why Open Source Java Is Such A Big Deal - InformationWeek

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Commentary
11/15/2006
08:53 AM
David  Spector
David Spector
Commentary
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Why Open Source Java Is Such A Big Deal

Well, it's not like the Open Sourcing of Java was a great surprise to most industry observers, but this week's announcement by Sun Microsystems that it is, in fact, releasing the Java Software Development Kit and JVM, the Java Compiler, and the just-in-time byte-code compiler known as HotSpot is a Really Big Deal nonetheless.

Well, it's not like the Open Sourcing of Java was a great surprise to most industry observers, but this week's announcement by Sun Microsystems that it is, in fact, releasing the Java Software Development Kit and JVM, the Java Compiler, and the just-in-time byte-code compiler known as HotSpot is a Really Big Deal nonetheless.It might not be obvious, but Java technology is perhaps the most pervasive collection of middleware and embedded system technologies of the last 50 years. It's literally everywhere, from your PDA and cell phone to almost every major enterprise software back-end and e-commerce site. Given the ubiquity of Java, one might well wonder, "Why bother?" Well, even with its widespread adoption, there are still some big issues for vendors wanting to use it in their new devices or or companies as a deployment language for their technologies:

  • There has always been a large amount of trepidation among senior IT managers that one day Sun would suddenly change the rules and charge them for using Java.
  • The only way to get an official certified Java implementation was to License it from Sun or write your own uncertified "clone."
  • Porting Java to a new platform was costly both in fees to Sun and time to market.
  • Unlike compiled languages like C, C++, or even Microsoft's Visual Basic, there is little native hardware support -- native libraries break Sun's "write once, run anywhere" paradigm, and since Sun has been the gatekeeper, there was very little incentive for third parties to invest the time and resources (and exposure of proprietary methods) to Sun in order to get native support included in the default Sun libraries.
  • Support for USB devices is basically nonexistent. Sun makes big enterprise servers... very few of which come with joysticks.
  • Support for high-end graphics cards and multimedia systems had languished: Sun had more or less abandoned its own high-end Java 3-D and media player frameworks. Sun is a hardware company; it wasn't practical for them to create interfaces and drivers for everyone else's hardware.
The takeaway from all this is that despite its success, Sun itself had become the bottleneck to the further adoption and growth of Java. Opening up the Java platform radically changes the Java marketplace.

Politically, this is a great move for Sun. It frees Sun from charges that a competitor could make about Java being held hostage to a single vendor. Of course, there have been alternative Java implementations available for several years (e.g., from IBM and BEA), but Sun was still the gatekeeper in terms of certification, which cost a lot of money.

Moreover Sun gets:

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