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Thoughts on Java and open source from JavaOne 2007Vishwanath Venugopalan, May 15, 2007 @ 2:27 pm ET
The noise around openness at JavaOne 2007 is deafening. Sun announced the completion of the OpenJDK project and the establishment of an interim governance board to write a constitution and hold elections. Sun has distributed source code to the Java class libraries since the early days, so the completion of OpenJDK may not be technically momentous. How Java’s governing bodies will steer its future will certainly be one area to watch. I’ve been in a couple of interesting conversations with senior Sun employees around open source and Java over the past couple of days.
Onno Kluyt, chair of the Java Community Process (JCP), said he sees no specific impact of the completion of OpenJDK on the JCP. According to him, Sun’s moves towards open sourcing Java at their core present governance issues whereas the JCP concerns itself with technical issues. He expects the Java governance board will create bylaws and a constitution but leave technical decisions to individual projects and expert groups, similar to how the Apache Software Foundation operates. He did mention that the JCP may evolve in the future to accommodate non-Java intellectual property contributions, such as those around protocol specifications like Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI). When questioned about the technical quality of JCP’s work products, he said that characterizing them as victims of design-by-committee syndrome is unfair given their high quality and widespread vendor support. He did concede that vendors on individual Java Specification Requests (JSR) occasionally pull in different directions based on how well the JSR fits in with the timing of their own product roadmaps. When asked how Sun might react to other vendors starting their own standardization processes, he responded that Sun chose to put Java under the GNU General Public License (GPL) so Java offerings from all vendors maintain maximum inter-compatibility and interoperability. Ultimately, he said, major customers–who typically run business-critical applications on multi-vendor Java environments– have kept and will keep every vendor in the Java ecosystem, including Sun, from growing too far apart.
At this year’s JavaOne, there were several sessions around the widely discussed albeit still nascent area of fully integrating programming languages other than Java–JRuby, Jython and Groovy come to mind–on to the Java platform. James Gosling, widely credited as the father of the Java programming language, hinted at some of the thinking on the future of the Java platform and the programming language landscape in general. According to him, Java’s most valued asset in the face of its competitors is its consistency across platforms. When asked about the future of multiple programming languages on the JVM, he envisioned a general-purpose language like Java at the core, with dynamic languages filling in for domain-specific functions and as appropriate. With respect to dynamic languages specifically, he said he would like for Java to interoperate with them more easily on the same virtual machine rather than take on features of dynamic languages itself. He stressed the value of code verifiability and security over the need to interoperate with unmanaged languages (C/C++), which he thought were a throwback to a more primitive era in computer science. He hinted at the possibility of revisiting some long-held dogmas in the Java programming language, such as the lack of operator overloading, in the face of Java’s increasing use in high-performance numeric computing. Gosling is currently involved in creating developer tools around Java. He hopes cellular carriers will loosen their strong hold on mobile devices and networks so that innovation in mobile applications–Java and otherwise–can occur in a nurturing environment.
It is hard to say exactly how an open source Java ecosystem will evolve, but given the influence Java has already garnered in the enterprise, Java vendors certainly have too much of a good thing going to jeopardize it with actions aimed at short term profit. Regardless of the tricky governance issues involved, we can certainly say an open source Java is a momentous event. Alan Kay once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. So, Java vendors, get on with the innovation–we’re all waiting!
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