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Company chairman and chief executive officer Scott McNealy announced Sun's move toward a more open Java during a keynote address at the San Francisco conference.
Sun has teamed with The Apache Software Foundation (ASF), maker of the popular Apache Server, to refine the procedures for open-source modifications of Java.
The changes are designed to address issues that have dogged open-source companies looking to certify their products as Java compatible through the JCP (Java Community Process) that governs Java's development. Companies have been wary of submitting open changes for Java because of licensing issues, confidentiality concerns and the costs associated with running compatibility tests, said Jason Hunter, vice-president of the ASF, who joined McNealy on stage.
As a response to some of these concerns, all Sun-led Java Specification Requests (JSRs) for standardising a feature through the JCP can be submitted under an open-source licence. In addition, test kits may also be submitted under the open licences, Hunter said. Some existing JSRs will also be available for open-source implementations, he said. Sun has submitted more JSRs than any other vendor.
Sun will also devote part of its support staff to helping open-source developers and academic institutions build new features for Java.
"I believe we have just made the Java community tighter as a community and much broader as a community with one move," McNealy said.
Sun did not say give the specifics of the open source licence it will use for Java. Officials, however, indicated Sun would not use a licence as broad as the General Public Licence (GPL) used in some open-source projects, which allows developers to modify and distribute code freely as long the changes are made public.
"Sun has been experimenting with tuning the business model on Java for a long time," said Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC. "It has received feedback that it really needs to be more open source."
Sun's decision may have assuaged some of the developers' fears and found a way to tap the talents of the Java community and open-source programmers as a whole.
Still, Sun's close ties to the Apache Software Foundation on this project lend some credence to the company's intentions, as the ASF manages many of the open-source world's most successful projects.
In a press conference after his speech, McNealy highlighted the importance of maintaining XML (Extensible Markup Language) as a standard technology and of forbidding vendors to implement their own versions.
As usual, McNealy took a swipe at Microsoft. "If Microsoft hijacked XML it would be a problem for the whole industry," he said.
"Do we have evidence?" he asked. "Just absolutely reliable, consistent behaviour from Microsoft since it got started."