The Java fiasco on Linux

Now that Sun has a new CEO (I met him a few years ago in a press event in SF) he tries to make it easier for Linux distros to redistribute Java and he is also looking into open sourcing Java. Unfortunately, from the whole situation, there are three losers: Sun, Red Hat and Gnome.

Red Hat has spent over half a million dollars so far investing on the development of the GNU Classpath clone of Java. My little bird tells me that Red Hat was in secret meetings with Sun for years now, trying to convince them to open Java. Sun’s previous CEO and his surrounding business partners didn’t want that to happen. This forced Red Hat to:
1. Spend money that they shouldn’t have to.
2. Employ two engineers full time helping out with Classpath, while they could be working on something else.
3. Leave Gnome for at least 2 years without a core high-level “modern” language support — especially since Red Hat didn’t accept Mono back then and PyGTK/GTKmm are not the answer to world hunger (unstable APIs and not “modern” enough to compete with .NET).

Sun also loses from the situation, because now they have to compete with a nearly complete clone of JRE and they have already made it clear that they don’t want to see fragmentation in their platform. That was their No1 fear, and it’s now realised. But if Sun had opened Java earlier, let’s say 2-3 years ago, it would have been a big win for everybody in the open source world.

The only people who “win” from the whole fiasco is the GNU Foundation, the people who like to clone everything and re-invent the wheel just for the fun of it. Oh, Microsoft is probably enjoying all this too. Hurrah.

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Tom Dison wrote on May 17th, 2006 at 7:39 AM PST:

My take on what will happen:

1. Sun open-sources java under their open license (same as the license to OpenSolaris)
2. Gnu prefers the GPL
3. Gnu continues on with their version
4. No one uses it but RMS

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on May 17th, 2006 at 7:41 AM PST:

Still though, that doesn’t help either Red Hat or Gnome… They have already lost by “waiting”.

Tom Dison wrote on May 17th, 2006 at 8:03 AM PST:

True, but I think you could look at it as this was probably the only way Sun was going to release java. If GCJ hadn’t made such progress (look at eclipse, open office, tomcat, etc running on gcj), I doubt if Sun would have cared. As it is, if Sun had not decided to open java, it would have run the risk of becoming irrelevant. As a programmer, I understand the pain of all that wasted effort. Who knows, maybe some of it can be used to improve the actual java codebase. It doesn’t bring back Red Hat’s lost money, nor bring back lost productivity to Gnome, but I, for one, am deeply grateful for their efforts.

Dalibor Topic wrote on May 19th, 2006 at 8:51 AM PST:

Actually, not one nearly complete clone, but two. IBM & Intel are putting some sweet money into Apache Harmony. Caught up with 3-4 years of GNU Classpath development in a year, so there is some serious money being pumped into it.

I like the way we’re setup now, with FSF for the players that don’t care about selling proprietary runtimes, and ASF for those that do.

Rick wrote on May 23rd, 2006 at 8:04 AM PST:

I think you’re pretty much on target here, but I’ll add a couple observations of mine.

Many open source developers just don’t like Java – period. They believe it has too much line noise. There’s IDEs that mitigate that a bit, but the perception is still there. I don’t believe that just because Java wasn’t open source that open source desktop developers didn’t use it. For reasons relating to “Swing is the toolkit” from a Sun perspective, they never did embrace Java-GTK/Gnome.

What I also find missing from much of these discussions is the historical factor in all of this. Momentum tends to shift towards and away from various technologies as time marches on. Maybe if Sun had written native toolkit apps for the open source desktop and if they had open sourced it years ago things would be different, but I don’t think open sourcing Java now or in the future will change much on the desktop.

And don’t forget the Mono factor. .NET/Mono is basically a superset of the JVM (can run Java) and is recognized as superior technology. Mono is mature and stable now, entrenched in the distros, and has some nice end-user, fluff apps. And it also has languages like Boo and Nemerle that people can write in. Java has different languages on top of it, but people just don’t seem to care much.

Oh, and don’t forget that RedHat decided years ago that although it wants it hand in the open source desktop, it doesn’t really pretty much stock in making money off of it. The money is on the server side.

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