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Java: Money, Freedom and Open Source

Trademarks, licensing agreements, branding, and other fundamental product issues remains unchanged

The current polemic with Java and Open Source boils down to two important issues: money and power.

In 1996, Sun created Java and the terms under which it is distributed. Since then, the Java Community Process (JCP) has emerged, allowing companies to participate in shaping language changes, but the ownership of trademarks, licensing agreements, branding, and other fundamental product issues remains unchanged. One is reminded of this fact every time the Sun MicrosystemsTM trademark appears alongside the Java coffee cup logo, or when one is greeted with the message "brought to you by Sun Microsystems" at www.java.com. For anyone to use the Java-compatible logo on a product requires verification against the test compatibility kit (TCK), for which one has to enter into negotiations with Sun. Java, the technology, the trademark, and the language, are owned by Sun.

The current licensing agreements for Java generate revenue for Sun in two ways; one is through direct fees to its licensees, and the other is through indirect revenue generated off the back end of Java's success.

When asked how much income is generated from Java, Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun, replied, "about $13 billion." He went on to explain that this figure is calculated from many sources, highlighting the revenue generated by licensing products that sit on top of the Java runtime stack. www.forbes.com/work/management/2006/05/04/sun-microsystems-schwartz-cz_ec_0504schwartz.html This demonstrates a mind shift on the part of Sun senior management regarding how Java income should be generated, with a move from direct to indirect revenue streams.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "power" is "the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy."

For Open Source to succeed power, must be relinquished and transferred. One of my favorite essays on the subject was written by Simon Phipps, the chief Open Source officer at Sun. www.webmink.net/free/Free-ix.htm In it, he discusses how the word "free" in Open Source means much more than giving away something for nothing; that "'free' in this context is not about the price; it is about the liberty. `Free' here is as used in the phrase `free speech'."

One of the perceived problems of Open Source often focused on by its naysayers, is that, with disparate groups of individuals, each with separate agendas, paymasters, and self-interests, the effort will collapse under the weight of its own entropy and confusion. Simon's counter to this argument is that a "`community of code' maintains a code base of Open Source components or elements, using the behaviors and principles of the Open Source movement. These inherently lead to better code being created, debugged and documented faster, not least because of the scrutiny of the community."

I am fortunate to be part of the Eclipse project which allows me to witness such dynamics on a daily basis, so I concur that Simon's vision of what defines a truly free Open Source project definitely works in practice. Within Eclipse, I work with companies that are fierce competitors in the marketplace with my daytime employer, however, together we shape and build the common codebase for the benefit of the greater good: our collective community of customers. Examples of the "freedom" that Simon talks about are that the Eclipse.org web site does not provide disproportionate links to any of its member companies' commercial products, the Eclipse codebase has large and diverse representation of code committers across its member companies, and EclipseCon conferences are not dominated by marketing speeches from CEOs of any of its member companies. It is the perfect implementation of Simon's vision for how Open Source flourishes when practiced well.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Jonathan Schwartz understands how commercial offerings that sit on top of the Open Source stack are key to Java's indirect revenue. Simon Phipps understands the dynamics of how successful projects operate, writing in his freedom essay, "Open Source is not just about the code; it is about the community. You don't make a project Open Source simply by publishing the source code."

When we are told that Java has finally become Open Source, we can judge its success or failure by its meeting the following criteria:

  • Use of the Java trademark is equal among all community members, so that no one community member can brand a product at "Java XXX" while dictating that another cannot.
  • The image of Java in the marketplace is of a community of companies. The Java logo and Java branding are owned by the community, and not by any one of its member companies. Websites such as java.com or java.net cannot carry trademarks specific to member companies disproportionately. Links and marketing stories about commercial products do not favor one member company over another.
  • Content and material for conferences like JavaOne are selected in a way that benefits the attendees, rather than benefiting any one community company's marketing agenda.
  • The number and affiliation of committers to the core codebase is diverse and representative of the participation of the member companies.
  • No rhetoric exists in the Java community, so for parts of the language that are outdated legacy, the community decides what to do for the greater good.
  • "Java" certification for one's own implementation of the language, on any hardware or operating system platform, can be obtained by having access to the TCK at no cost
I just hope for the future of Java that behind all of the current discourse on the subject from Sun, it won't become another case of "do as I say and not as I do."

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

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