June 28, 2004—BEA Systems will jump into the debate over whether Java should be made open source on Wednesday, and comments from one of its senior executives suggest the application server vendor is leaning in favor of the move.
IBM put the issue on the front burner in February when it sent a public letter to Sun encouraging it to make Java open source. It argued that the move would expand the technology's reach and lead to more innovation. Sun has been cautiously open to the idea but has said lots of issues need to be ironed out first.
BEA, which along with IBM makes one of the two most popular Java application servers, has yet to state a position either way. But in a speech at JavaOne Wednesday afternoon, Chief Technology Officer Scott Dietzen will reveal BEA's thinking on the matter, he said in an interview Monday.
Dietzen was reluctant to reveal BEA's stance ahead of his speech, but he seemed to indicate that BEA is in favor of making Java open source and that he will present BEA's proposal for how it should be done.
"Rather than declare our intent now, I would say that I've not seen any concrete proposals yet from IBM or Sun on the details of how to open source Java. I think that's part of the problem. There are some complex issues that need to be resolved," Dietzen said.
One issue is which parts of Java should be made open source, he said. The other has to do with what he called "compliance," or the need to ensure an open source Java would not splinter into incompatible versions. Sun executives have raised similar concerns.
"The thing people most like in the Java community is the consistency across platforms. If open-sourcing would cause a fragmentation, that wouldn't be a good thing for any Java vendor. So how do you allow open source, which allows lots of (developers) to go off and randomly innovate—how do you marry that to convergence? Show up on Wednesday and get some thoughts on what we think will work," he said.
One developer at the show was doubtful that Java would splinter under an open source model. Developers generally appreciate the compatibility across Java products and would be unlikely to compromise it, said Keith Sibson, senior software developer at NetSpend, a company in Austin, Texas that provides prepaid credit cards.
The open source model has merits, he said, including faster turnaround times for bug fixes. On the other hand, he said, proprietary products sometimes have fewer bugs to fix in the first place. At the end of the day, he said he didn't care greatly one way the other whether Java is made open source.
The day after Dietzen's speech, a panel will discuss the matter at JavaOne, with engineers from Sun and IBM joined by Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, IT book publisher Tim O'Reilly, and others.
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