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Regarding Distribution Divergence....

Posted by cdibona on July 3, 2004 at 12:44 PM PDT

At JavaOne, Gosling, Brian Behlendorf and IBM's Rod Smith among others had a discussion about the merits of Open Sourcing Java. Gosling noted that one of the primary benefits of open sourcing the code, compatibility, is served already by Sun support for Java in a consistent fashion across platforms. But that's not really what I feel the need to address, but something else. But first, a link to the LinuxWorld story:

(Disclosure, I'm on the editorial advisory board with that publication.)

One thing that grates on me while reading this article is Gosling's statement of "All these distros, almost interoperable, but they're different enough to be a pain in the butt.". It strikes me as being a bit unrealistic. The truth is that thanks to the issues distributions had in the early days converging on a single standard for things like file locations, library versions and directory structures, the vast majority of Businesses and ISVs run and develop on Red Hat or SuSE. These are sufficiently similar and enjoy enough market share to be supported the same to ISVs. Those companies that choose to run other distributions know they're on the hook to make them work with whatever program they get from said ISV, or reinstall.

Or, if I were to paraphase my pal Jeremy Allison "There is a Linux standard for ISVs, it's called Red Hat". A more gentle way of putting it might be, "thought leadership equals the ability to make the decisions about how things are around a technology" but in the end , it is the same thing. If you want to run Oracle, you gotta conform to what Oracle ports to, and Oracle isn't porting to Gentoo. (But try out Postgres!)

You should note that this isn't at all like the incompatibility foisted upon customers during the UNIX "wars", in which competing vendors worked under the rubric of compatibility while really undermining that exact features of open systems in the name of sales advantage.

Which brings me to the heart of my divergence of opinion with Sun on the matter of open sourcing Java. It is not very gracious to hold up Suns internal processes of compatibility as a reason to not open source Java when in fact those very processes were used to ill effect on compatibility when it proved to serve Sun's business motives in the past.

And no, my alterna-distribution using pals, I am not saying that I don't like other distributions and don't recognize the prowess of a Gentoo, Debian or Slackware based system. In the windows world, people don't feel the need to support every version of windows, either.

I'm not saying that I think that Sun will pursue a strategy of platform divergence, because I think that they see that injuring Java's portability from Linux to Solaris would make people err on the side of running it on Linux. But, and this is the important thing, Open Source guarantees this is much more difficult to pull off this kind of platform performance and compatibility bifurcation. So that is another reason to like Open Source Java.

That said, it isn't as if Sun would really lose all that much control if they open the code, as the Trademark would still be theirs to continue to do with as they please, so in a way the whole "Open Source Java(tm)!" thing is a big red herring anyway. I should give Sun props for hosting this debate at JavaOne, it's good, brave and refreshing to see that they are willing to discuss the issue in a serious forum, so while I disagree with that statement of Gosling's, I applaud that they made the time to address the issue.

One last thing, as an aside, JavaOne is a funny title, if Java were to be forked, would they need to change the name to JavaTwo? Just an idle thought

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