Sun's Jonathan Schwartz on Java's future

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software at Sun Microsystems, spoke with Computerworld (US) during the recent JavaOne conference here about the possibility of Java becoming open-source and the potential market for Java in mobile devices.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software at Sun Microsystems, spoke with Computerworld (US) during the recent JavaOne conference here about the possibility of Java becoming open-source, the potential market for Java in mobile devices and Java's relationship with IBM. Excerpts from that interview follow.

Should Java be made fully open-source?

The problem with open-source is that [victory] goes to volume, and that's evident in the Linux community today where ISVs [independent software vendors] are qualifying to Red Hat and abandoning everyone else. Why? Because Red Hat has volume.

If Java were open-source, Microsoft could take it, deliver it as they saw fit and drive a definition of Java that was divergent from the one that the community wanted to be compatible. And to the victor would go the spoils of that nefarious action.

To the extraordinary credit of the Java Community Process [JCP], we have a uniform compatible standard that now spans hundreds of millions of devices, hundreds of millions of smart cards, hundreds of millions of desktops and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of servers. So you have to really be careful in understanding the distinction between open-source and open standards.

An IBM executive once equated those two terms to me.

IBM is dead wrong, and I also think that IBM is somewhat duplicitously straddling that gap for its own benefit, exploiting the open-source community on the one hand and then on the other hand, trying to derive a proprietary advantage from its implementations of open-source products and trying to fork the marketplace. I don't believe that open-source leads to more innovation. I think open-source leads to a different kind of innovation. ... What will cause open-source products to win is if they are better, and it has nothing to do with source code. To any CIO I've ever met, source code is like a free puppy. It's great the day you get it. It's really cute. But then you have to feed it, get it its shots, take it for a walk, etc.

Some developers who attended your JavaOne conference said they think Java should be open-source.

I think the licensees understand the integrity that the Java Community Process drives. It's interesting about the Java Community Process, because the only companies that really don't like the community process are the companies that have approached me or one of my direct reports with an attempt to try to do something outside the JCP and leave everyone else behind. We don't talk a lot about that hypocrisy, but that hypocrisy exists, and we've said continuously we believe in compatibility.

Did IBM talk to you before including its proprietary graphical user interface technology, called the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT), in its open-source Eclipse platform?

No. And I think what they've done with SWT violates really what you would want to do with the Java platform. No one wants "write once, run on this operating system."

IBM has a lot of weight and they don't like the JCP, I think in part because they can't throw their weight around. They are just one voice of many.

Sun gave all of the keynotes at JavaOne. Why did other key Java vendors have such a small presence?

You'll notice that nobody really from Sun got up and talked about Sun products. We talked about the health of the community as probably the company that has the single biggest vested interest in its success. I think that the folks who came to JavaOne wanted that. I think it was information that folks really found interesting and wanted to see.

I think secondarily, why isn't IBM here? I think they're consumed with their SCO litigation, and my bet is the AIX license is going to get pulled, which is going to put even more uncertainty into their strategy.

I think they're having a bit of an identity crisis, because they wanted to be the Linux company. And that really brings customers in some sense back three steps, because Linux doesn't really offer an architecture. It offers an operating system. And this conversation here at JavaOne is all about architecture and end-to-endedness. It's not about yet another kernel and yet another set of C libraries. We would have loved them here. We have partnered effectively in the marketplace. We'd love to see that continue.

Some attendees noted IBM's near absence.

I think it's an obvious absence. Microsoft wasn't here, either.

No one would have expected that.

In a very interesting way, now that we've settled the Java issue with respect to distribution, you know that's no longer an issue for Microsoft to manage explicitly. Who knows? Maybe we've got some partnering opportunities with Microsoft. We do have a common competitor in the form of IBM. ... If they would abide by the contract, we would love to work with them.

I know a lot of smart people at Microsoft, and I know a lot of folks who are big fans of Java at Microsoft who are upset at what Microsoft did. And so hopefully, at some point, their management team will listen to some of those smart folks and we'll figure out a way to go work together on this. ... Volume speaks. When there are 100 million enabled handsets in the world and zero million SmartPhones in the world, volume has spoken.

At the end of the day, they're failing on game machines. They're failing on set-top boxes. They're failing on handsets. They're failing on PDAs. They're succeeding in the one and only market in which they have ever succeeded -- the desktop.

At JavaOne, it sometimes sounded as if you were pleading with developers to build applications for handsets. It wasn't a plea.

The problem with the IT industry is everyone who is down on that [exhibition] floor, and even most of the folks that you write for, assume that computing means a desktop PC and a server. And I would just suggest that that is no longer necessarily going to be the focal point for enterprise interactivity. ... North America is behind every other place on the earth. So what Vodafone was here to say was, 'We want more content.' And isn't it great that we have one of the largest companies on the planet working with 53 other of the largest companies on the planet now beginning to help us brand, promote and evangelise the developers?

... In Europe and in Asia, tons of companies are doing everything from location services to inventory management. The RFID [radio frequency identification] and Auto-ID technologies are beginning to push the technology beyond the desktop to other devices.

I think we really are in the backwater of the industry with respect to the deployment of internet-connected technologies in things other than desktop computers. And so the question you really have to ask is, Will enterprise IT be forced into reacting to the opportunities, or will they be taking advantage of the opportunities? And I think that more in this country will be reacting than will be proactive. I think in Europe and Asia, more will be proactive than reactive.

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