Another 15 years of Java

JBoss's Fleury on the GPL and IBM's reaction

Speaking at JBoss World in Berlin, Marc Fleury, the founder and leader of the JBoss division of Red Hat, told LinuxWorld that he was pleased that Sun had chosen to release Java under the GPL as “it will extend the life of Java by at least 15 years.”

From the point of view of the free software movement, “it is very good news that Java has been GPL'd, because it creates a protection in terms of intellectual property around the Java Virtual Machine.”

Fleury believes that the JVM will evolve much more rapidly under the influence of the open source community, but that Sun will benefit by retaining control of the branding “and that's a good thing” for JBoss, for the developers, and for the open source community. “It's a good thing because we care about the evolution of the platform. We also care about the integrity of the unified virtual machine that has created such a big market for developers who don't have to care about Linux vs. Windows vs. Solaris, and instead talk about a Java platform.”

Fleury sees the GPL's freedom clauses as a mechanism that preserves the "intellectual property" and integrity of the code. “The GPL is the best of both worlds,“ he said, "because the GPL creates a very strong notion of 'intellectual property,' and the free software community has been given a superb virtual machine—the Sun implementation—and at the same time, Sun can still monetize their virtual machine with dual licensing.”

Fleury says the lack of a decent open source VM has been “ideologically disturbing. But in practice,” he said, “nobody cared. Developers have always used the JVM on Linux anyway. It hasn't stopped anybody, but if you take a longer term viewpoint, the release of the virtual machine under a GPL licence has increased the life of Java by at least 15 years.”

The GPL is the right mechanism “because you will see less forks. The branding program will be very stringent. It's a good thing from Sun's standpoint. The GPL allows them to monetize the Java ME environment. There will be a proliferation of the virtual machine, while retaining some monetization for Sun.”

Sun was very open with its partners “and polled them on how they should open the virtual machine. Our vote, as Red Hat JBoss, was to 'go GPL.' I don't want to take the credit for it, but we're happy to see they're doing the right thing.”

Fleury feels that much of the criticism that has been aimed at Sun has been unjustified. “A lot of the Sun bashing really came from other private interests,” he said, “that like to paint themselves as the guardians of open source and Bad Sun as 'a little bit saucy,' when in fact, within the JCP, the governing body of Java certification, open source people have been present since 2003. The input of the open source community and how we work with the JCP has already been worked out. We were a key contributor to the EJB 3.0 specification, and we're leading Web Beans, which is the way that next-generation Web applications will be written.”

Fleury was less generous about Sun's critics. “IBM reacted negatively to the Sun announcement,” he said, “because IBM's approach to open source is what we call 'strip mining,' which is to let the open source community do things, then IBM comes and packages them, and adds proprietary code, and markets the result—witness WebSphere. So they have this dual strategy of proprietary products and low-end open source.” This kind of strategy “usually works well with BSD-style licences,” he says, “where you can create, as a vendor, a competing offering that is proprietary.” Sun's action in releasing Java under the GPL had “pre-empted the efforts that IBM was making with Harmony and Apache in trying to create an open source release under BSD-style licenses and has taken the wind out of their sails.”

“I was a little bit disappointed with IBM's reaction,” Fleury says, “because they showed their 'strip mining' strategy hand a little too well. Before, they were all 'open source is good, open source is fine.' So you mean free software is not good. Why?” The GPL means that that Java “will remain in the free software community forever. You can't take it away. That's the advantage of the Free Software Foundation licenses, and they (IBM) are against that. Why? They've been crying wolf on 'you have to open source,' and when Sun calls their bluff and goes GPL, they're not happy.”

Richard Hillesley writes for LinuxWorld.com.

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