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Open source Java: You just can't please everyone

Posted by joconner on November 22, 2006 at 1:45 AM PST

IBM has been requesting an open source Java for years. Back in early February 2004, IBM started sending its open letters to Sun. Those letters generated lots of discussion, and Sun's commitment to open source was questioned.  We know what "open letters" are, right? Open letters are the equivalent of sending email to a coworker and cc'ing the boss just to make sure there's a little extra motivation on the coworker. They wanted Sun to know about the request, and they wanted you to know too.

Of course, now you all know that Sun made a dramatic move to open-source the Java platform...via the GPL version 2 no less. Not only did Sun make the JDK open source, but Sun used the grand-daddy of all open source licenses, the GPL. Prior to this, I had heard comments that Sun would probably wimp out and use something cooked up by Sun lawyers to appease everyone but still maintain control.'s the GPL, where open-source started by most people's reckoning. No watered-down, weak-kneed, wimpy license. It's the GPL.

Most people, even Mr. Richard Stallman, praised Sun for the effort. The GPL news generated lots of excitement, and the process of releasing the entire JDK is still on-going...and will continue most likely through the end of the year.

But guess who's not so happy about a GPL'd Java? Guess who got what they asked for but still finds something to complain about? That'd be IBM. It's hard to believe, but believe it. Now that Sun has provided exactly what the doctor ordered, IBM doesn't like the taste of the medicine. IBM would prefer a different license, an Apache license. IBM has put some effort into a different open source project for the JDK, and well, a GPL'ed JDK just won't do, especially now that IBM has expended resources on something else.

Surely IBM remembers that it has made open, public demands for an open JDK. Now that an open Java implementation exists, I'm surprised that they can complain at all. I believe that they have to be careful how they complain too. After all, they're getting what they asked for, and yet they're still not happy. You have to be careful if you want to grumble and moan at this point after being so adamant for an open source Java.

I have kids that do something similar. They'll request ice-cream, ice-cream, ice-cream, and no matter what I deliver, someone won't be happy. One will want strawberry, and another will want chocolate, and yet another will insist on hot-fudge sundaes instead. Despite your best efforts, you just can't please everyone.

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