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Of the People, By the People

Posted by edort on May 7, 2007 at 4:06 PM PDT

Last year I attended NetBeans Software day, a day that preceded the official opening of the 2006 JavaOne Conference. For that session, Sun booked a medium size meeting room in the Argent Hotel (now rebranded the Westin Hotel on Market Street) in San Francisco. When the attendees finished filing into that room it was full to overflowing.

Learning it's lesson, this year Sun put on NetBeans Software Day in a very large room in Moscone Center -- a room that held perhaps upwards of 1000 people. As Goldilocks said at the end of her sojourn through the bears' house -- just right! As I prepared to listen to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Sun EVP Rich Green present the opening session for NetBeans Software Day prior to the 2007 JavaOne Conference, I briefly scanned the crowd. The room was full, but I saw no one standing.

This large and enthusiastic audience gives testament to the fact that there's a large NetBeans developer community out there, and it's growing. In fact, it's that community and the critical role that it plays in the evolution of NetBeans that was the substance of Schwartz and Green's talk. Well actually not a talk, but rather a Q&A session.

Calling himself and Green, "click and clack", Schwartz said that he didn't have a prepared script, so instead he and Green decided to do a Q&A session. Initially Schwartz peppered Green with questions and Green returned serve. Then Green returned the favor and posed questions to his boss.

One thing that came up repeatedly in the Q&As was how important open sourcing and community involvement are to Sun. Schwartz mentioned a number of times that Sun is now the largest open-source code provider in the world. And standing square in the middle of that open sourcing is the developer community. Schwartz said that "we're trying hard to work with the community, be part of the community, and work in the community."

Significantly, that community is driving innovation -- particularly in making things easier for developers. In fact, one of the interesting questions that Schwartz posed was ""where did we go wrong with Java?" That's not to say that Java really did go wrong. Green began his answer with "Java has been a remarkable success story." However he did go on to say that "there are weak points." One of those weak points is that for many developers the language can be difficult. Schwartz chided "So Java is too hard?" Green responded that yes, a lot of developers are looking for something that "speaks to them." And it's the community that is taking the lead in tools like NetBeans to make them "speak to people." Green underscored the fact that the involvement of the community makes for more richness yet more simplicity.

Schwartz and Green also spent a bit of time discussing the basic dialectic in open sourcing. Schwartz said that there are two views regarding open-source code. One view is that code should be open, free, and not subject to litigation. The other view is that the only way to protect code from forking is that it should be controlled by a single company that can be trusted. Schwartz said that the people who hold the first view will likely win out.

Another interesting element of the open source universe is compensation for content providers. Schwartz and Green stressed that it's unsustainable and unfair for folks who contribute innovative content not to get compensated for their efforts. The days of folks contributing their content so that a web-site-owning company can make large amounts of "coin" on it are waning. Green added that "as the largest open-source company in the world, we want to look into how to share the wealth."

Although they said nothing specific, both Schwartz and Green intimated that there will be some announcements upcoming that address this situation. In fact, expect lots of things to come from Sun regarding open source and its evolution. Schwartz said "for me open source was step 1. Steps 2, 3, and 4 will get more interesting technically, sociologically, and economically."

The session ended with a question from the audience that brought a somewhat humorous, and perhaps factual, response from Schwartz:

Q: Could you comment on the fact that Eclipse has more market share than NetBeans?

A: They might have more market share, but our developers have more fun!

Schwartz added: "I call on all Eclipse developers to try NetBeans. You'll have a better day."

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