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Richard Stallman loves Java

Posted by davidvc on November 13, 2006 at 11:51 AM PST

I remember in the mid-nineties doing engineering support at Sybase, debugging nasty memory leaks and memory corruption caused by users' incorrect use of C pointer semantics. I loved the object-oriented design paradigm that was gaining hold, but as someone who had spent hours tracking down memory errors and deciphering strange, mangled code constructs, I looked at C++ in horror and hoped desperately for something better. I encountered Eiffel and loved the concepts behind it, but I couldn't use it because the cost to license just to build stuff with it was so horrendously high.

Then along came Java, and not only was it an excellent language, solving many of the maintenance nightmares I had encountered, and supporting the new OO paradigm, but you could use the compiler absolutely free, and you could redistribute programs you wrote in Java absolutely free. This was revolutionary!

Now that looks so old-fashioned, so restrictive, but back then you normally (except for gc++) had to pay just to get a compiler, let alone redistribute software you built with it. I remember "borrowing" MSDN CDs from others in the company because the VC++ compiler was a hefty $500 a pop. And forget about free IDEs, that was a fantasy nobody expected to ever come true.

Well, we've come a long way. As you've probably already heard, today Java is going open source, and not just Java SE but Java ME as well. You can read more about it here.

What I like the most about this announcement is the videos from folks like Brian Behlendorf, Tim O'Reilly and Richard Stallman. Hard to imagine Richard Stallman going on record praising Java, but why not, it's going out under GPL.

stallman.jpg

At various open source conferences, I've lunched and dinnered with Simon Phipps and the team who have been working with the open source community around open sourcing Java, and I've seen how hard this has been. My congratulations to everyone both inside and outside of Sun who have worked so hard on this. In particular my hats off to the Java SE, ME, and EE teams. They have been asked to take their baby that they have cared for so carefully for so many years and open it up to the world, and be asked to trust that all will be well. I can only imagine how difficult that must be.

Now what? Well, as an advocate for Java on the desktop, on mobile devices and in the browser, my hope is that this move will make Java even more ubiquitous on these platforms. Using GPL means that the Linux distros will be quite happy to redistribute Java. Maybe the Java plugin for Firefox will just be there and won't require a separate install.

This also opens Java up to key governments like Brazil, where all technologies are required to be under an open source license, not just because it's cheap but also because it assures that these technologies will not be controlled by foreign third parties.

So, my hope is that this will finally remove the stigma around Java in the open source and government communities, and as a result you will not only have write-once, run-anywhere, but also write-once, runs-everywhere.