Rod Smith, IBM’s vice president of emerging Internet technologies, issued a statement yesterday calling for Sun to dual-license Java so that organizations like Apache, which use more permissive licenses, can incorporate Java source code. Criticizing Sun’s decision to release Java only under the GPL, IBM argues that Sun should contribute to existing open source Java endeavors like Apache’s Harmony project.
Smith’s statement is IBM’s response to the release of the Java source code under the GPL license. Sun’s decision to release Java under an open license is widely perceived as an attempt to prevent the technology from continuing to lose relevance as competitors like .NET and Ruby on Rails gain greater momentum. Sun’s decision to use the GPL (rather than the company’s own CDDL license) is particularly significant, and it is indicative of Sun’s willingness to finally relinquish some control and engage in intellectual interchange with the rest of the open source community.
IBM’s dissatisfaction stems from the fact that code released under the GPL cannot inherently be incorporated into several existing open source Java projects. Since the Apache Software Foundation’s license permits proprietary redistribution and the GPL does not, Java source code would have to be multilicensed in order to allow Apache projects like Harmony to benefit from the Java source code. Multilicensing is relatively common, and it enables broader adoption. The Firefox web browser, for instance, is available under the MPL, GPL, and LGPL licenses.
Smith argues that the availability of Java source code under an “Apache-friendly” license would “ensure the open source Java community isn’t fragmented and disenfranchised.”
Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz responded by saying, “I find it a little curious that IBM would oppose the GPL. I sure wouldn’t want to see them turning their back on the open source community.”
Schwartz’s comment is particularly ironic when one considers the fact that Schwartz severely condemned the GPL last year, characterizing the license as “predatory.”
Sun’s decision to use the GPL is widely supported by the open source community, and IBM’s criticism does not represent a common point of view. Sun still plans to make the source code commercially available under other licensing terms for those that wish to incorporate Java into proprietary software. This particular approach to licensing isn’t particularly unusual, and is somewhat similar to what Trolltech does with its Qt development toolkit on the Windows platform, for instance. In the long run, multilicensing would probably be advantageous for Java and the open source community, but it is difficult to estimate how it would impact Sun. There has been some speculation about IBM’s motives, primarily fueled by IBM’s prominence in the Java software ecosystem. At this point it simply looks like IBM is trying to protect its investment in Apache’s Java activities, but some analysts think that IBM’s confrontational position reflects a desire to exercise broader control over the future of Java technology.