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Open source Java? No Way!

Posted by joconner on July 12, 2004 at 2:38 PM PDT

I don't doubt the usefulness of open source projects. Several valuable projects exist. One of my favorites at the moment is JXTA. Using this project in my own applications is quite rewarding. However, I can't say that it is as well documented as I'd like.

Lack of documentation is a major weakness in an otherwise great product. Of course, JXTA is not alone with this particular shortcoming. There are wikis and faqs, but they all seem inadequate. Nothing beats the well carved, carefully constructed instructions and tutorials of professionally written documentation. Unfortunately, open-source often means poor documentation. It's not poor because of lack of energy or good intentions. My opinion is that most open-source documentation lacks the power and backing of money, the only resource that ultimately matters. I mean, other than a few developers sponsored at major companies like IBM, Sun, RedHat, and a couple others, what software engineers get paid to do the work on open source? Unpaid developers intent on hacking out that latest feature rarely put as much effort into documentation. Will all those free bugfixes or features that developers try to push back into the platform be documented sufficiently? Would Sun still be responsible for maintaining Java? If Sun just manages to satisify its licensees now, will it still be able to do so if it regularly gets thousands of enhancements and new features from open source developers? Can Sun manage that? Can it manage just the documentation even?

Yes, there are lots of factors to consider when thinking about open source Java. I'm just picking one of my nits to harp on. With that in mind, I'm hesitant to support any effort to make Java an open source project. Open source means what? Will the platform be placed up on Sourceforge or elsewhere where others can add features willy-nilly? And will those new features be documented sufficiently to make them useful to others? My complaint against open source, free software is simple...poor documentation. Java documentation has its own problems. Handing Java over to the open source community might compound them...and that's just one of the problems I don't want. Open source Java? No Way!

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