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July 24, 2006—As the chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems, Simon Phipps has been busy in recent months with various open source initiatives. The company released OpenSolaris, the open source version of its Solaris 10 Unix operating system last year, and more recently unveiled plans to make its Java programming language open source. In an interview with Computerworld, Phipps talked about Sun's upcoming open source strategy and about what he called the incorrect view that Sun isn't fully committed to open source software. Phipps, who joined Sun in 2000, has worked in IT for more than 20 years as a programmer, engineer, systems analyst, and strategist for various companies, including IBM.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
As Sun's chief open source officer, you said you disagree with critics who argue that Sun isn't doing enough with open source software. Why are the critics wrong? One of the things that's happened in the last five years is that people have positioned Sun as uncommitted to open source. It's the competitive market and the press that does this. But if you look at the history, it's pretty hard to sustain that as a position. NFS [Network File System] was invented by Sun and released as free software. In 1995, Sun released the Java console with full source code that led to incredibly rapid adoption. Looking into the current era, Sun helped fund Mozilla as it went open source and continues to contribute. Sun has been a fundamental player in accessibility code for GNOME. I can run down a litany of these things. We are profoundly involved in the open source world and have been for many years.
What are Sun's plans for open source and its products? We've actually stepped up the rate of contribution. Code talks. We've released Unix as open source software by taking the Solaris source code. Right now, we're in the mix of putting as much as possible of our software products into open source, including Java and NetBeans tools. For various reasons, Java has gotten people's attention as it goes into open source, but that's just one product where we will do this.
About open-sourcing Java—Sun made that announcement in May, but the details have seemed rather vague so far. Now what? When will this happen? The truth is we're doing it as fast as we possibly can. If I could snap my fingers and make it happen tomorrow, I would. It's not a simple endeavor. You can't just slap a license on things. You have to be sure that you have the rights to every line of code. So we have to work through all sorts of issues—legal, access, encumbrances, relationships with Java licensees. All of these issues will take time to resolve.
So do you have any estimate on when this will finally happen for Java? I don't think it's going to be very long at all. We have staffers who have instructions that it's going to be open source. They will get it done, and they will get it done soon. With Solaris, Sun lawyers worked on the ownership issues with that code for nearly five years before Solaris was made available for open source. It's not going to take that long with Java.
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