Bottom of the Ninth, or, Just how "Open" is Java anyways?

A recent post on the OCJUG list asked to what degree is Java "open" and when will everyone agree that it is "open" to their satisfaction.

The fact that "Java" is a trademark (the significance of which was made obvious when Sun changed their stock symbol from SUNW to JAVA) means that what most folks think Java is will never be as open or free as some folks want.

Furthermore, Sun has a dual license for their Java distribution which includes OpenJDK. So if you want to contribute to the most popular JDK distribution, you have to agree that Sun can also use your efforts under terms that are not necessarily free or open (although they do promise to always make your contribution available under a FSF and/or OSI approved license).

So OpenJDK has two strikes against it.

Here comes the next pitch, aaannd OpenJDK is GPL licensed, a home run!

I was amazed and pleased that Sun went all the way and used GPL for Java. After all, I'd been saying that Java would eventually be OSS, even after the ISO talk was replaced by the JCP.

That means this pillar of the Great Java Renaissance of 2006 is strong as it possibly can be. One of those strengths is that anyone who isn't satisfied with the degree of openness can simply fork with total abandon and with the best license for software freedom. That is a reality and one of the first projects spawned by OpenJDK is IcedTea, which is a free and open implementation of Java.

As for folks saying Java being OSS doesn't matter. They are quite mistaken. Already we've seen significant developments such as SoyLatte which counters Apple's weak support of Java, and research work on Java being truly free and open in the Da Vinci Machine Project. This change in research work is important because in the past such work, if done with Sun's JDK, used a license that meant the resulting code rarely ever left the university.

That the OpenJDK is an effective OSS project is clear because all of these efforts are now part of the OpenJDK project itself, rather than forking or otherwise choosing to stand alone or with another group.

That is only the beginning and, by being real Open Source Software, we can rest assured that Java will grow in strength over the next decade just as it did the first. Of course we can also be assured that there are plenty of folks that will disagree with just about every aspect of all this jazz.