Musings on the new opportunities that Open Source Java brings

I have often said that I don't love Java because I'm at Sun. I'm at Sun because I love Java. I love Java so much that I wanted to work at a place where I can do the most good for the Java community, and Sun is definitely that place. Now that Java is open source I think it means only good things.

The big announcement today: Java will be open sourced under the GPL. I think it makes a lot of sense because it protects Sun's interest in preventing forks and also the community's interest in knowing that Java will forever be available in the public sphere. The GPL has always provided an option to fork just in case someone takes the code in a bad direction. Historically having this option available ensures that it never needs to actually be used, letting the community grow and thrive.

So what does this actually mean? What is the benefit to open source Java? How will things change? Here's what I think will change and what won't. I say this as my own opinion, not an official statement from Sun. I also say this as someone new to Sun, coming to Sun two years ago from an open source background. I'm sure that engineers with more experience than I will have different opinions. So with that, let's hear it:

How will open source change Java

  • Real bugs will be fixed faster and non-bugs will be closed faster than ever.
  • Java won't fork. Few developers will have incentive to fork Java. It's a lot of work for little gain. Branches for new features or new platform support: yes. A true fork: no. Not even MS has much to gain from this anymore.
  • The JCP will grow and change. As before, big decisions about the future of Java will go through the Java Community Process. However, with more interested developers the ranks of the JCP will grow and change in some very good ways.
  • Java will have first class support on Linux, Free-BSD, and other 100% open operating systems. This is huge. Hugely, huge. I'm hoping we'll finally get a KDE look and feel as well.
  • NetBeans will open the entire JDK sources all at once. It's true, we're working on it for NetBeans 6. With the new editor infrastructure this will be possible. You might not actually want to do this, but it should be possible if you've got enough memory.
  • We will see lots of small crazy experimental versions of Java that add different things. Imagine a JDK with Find Bugs, MySQL, SwingX, JDIC, JInput, JOGL, Java3D, Tritonus MP3, jSDL, KDE-Java, Gnome-Java and a bunch of other cool libraries pre-integrated. We might even see an entire downloadable VMWare virtual harddrive with Ubuntu + Super JDK + NetBeans preinstalled for the ultimate prefab development environment.
  • More adoption of Looking Glass. Now that Java can be freely run on Linux desktops out of the box, there is incentive to ship Looking Glass bundled in with the OS. There's a lot of good 3D cards out there. Let's use'em!
  • More 3D Java Games for all platforms. I expect that people will start shipping an optimized copy of Java embedded in their applications. The end user will never need to know that Java is involved. JOGL + Java3D is now available for Win, Mac, and any copy of Linux with the right X configuration (which is more common than ever).
  • Burnable Java. Imagine a tool that burns a photo slideshow application preloaded with your photos, plus a copy of Java, straight to a CD. Hand the CD to your Mom, she pops it into her computer, and the photo slideshow starts right up. You'll never need to worry about the version of Java because it's shipped with your app. You don't need to worry about the OS because you code against Java, not against native APIs. (hmm. perhaps 'burnable java' isn't the right name for this. :)
  • Java will grow to fill every available computing niche and finally achieve the goal of total world domination.

Okay, so maybe that last one is a stretch, but it's true that this will help to bring More Java to More Places.

So now we have a free runtime, competition between three groups to make the best IDE in the world, and a language that scales from cellphones to desktops to super-cluster-matrix-grids-thingy's. It's a good time to be a software developer!

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Posted November 12th, 2006