A rising tide lifts all boats. If there were ever a philosophy that guided our decision making at Sun, it’s that – the notion that an internet connected by freely available standards is more valuable, to Sun and our customers, than one defined by dependencies on proprietary technologies. Although the metaphor doesn’t translate particularly well (I know, I’ve tortured translators around the world), the concept is familiar to nearly everyone, no matter the industry or geography.
History is replete with examples of failed efforts to defeat standardization. My personal favorite is Thomas Edison’s attempt to patent the lightbulb, so he could threaten litigation against anyone using an “infringing” non-Edison
client bulb attached to his servers generators. And there are just as many success stories for broadly adopted standards, from shipping containers to power grids, air traffic control to the Java platform itself.
Few folks, at least outside of Sun, understand how pervasively successful the Java platform, and the community supporting it, have been over the past decade. But Java runs on more devices than Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris, Symbian and the Mac combined. Nearly 4 billion devices at this point, from smart cards to consumer devices, DVD players to set top boxes, medical equipment, all the way up into the majority of the world’s transactional systems and 8 out of every 10 cellphones sold. The Java platform is, already, a global standard.
The source code has been available for years. And we have a robust, multi-party community that defines the standard, driven by more than 1,000 contributors, from Google to Oracle, Motorola to Nokia, Apple to Apache, Red Hat, Samsung, Sony, SouJava – if they matter to the internet, they belong to the Java Community (with one exception, despite our frequent invitation). Millions of developers and customers benefit every day.
But over the past few years, our success has felt increasingly incomplete.
There was an obvious division growing between those that believed in free software, also known as the open source community, and those that believed in open standards. And it felt like we at Sun were straddling a few too many fences – Solaris has become one of the most popular projects in the open source community, along with Glassfish (our open source Java EE application server), NetBeans (our development environment), and another one of my favorites, Project Looking Glass (an inspiration for many). But the Java platform itself was never listed in that lineup – because its license was more restrictive, designed to enforce community compatibility above individual freedom. (Our motives were pure, but we’d been burned in the past.)
But a rising tide lifts all boats. And now that Java’s established itself beyond a doubt, it’s time to take the next step, to utterly obliterate the barriers to entry for developers around the world seeking to build the next great device, or the next great internet service. Whether in the US, Brazil, Poland, China, Tibet, Taiwan, Europe, Mexico – where ever the internet travels (to more places, at this point, than even electricity).
And by now, you’ve seen that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve followed through on our promise to join hands with the free software community, and have chosen the Free Software Foundation‘s General Public License (known as “the GPL“) as the governing license for the evolution of the Java platform. (Crow and hats available for those needing a snack 🙂
The GPL is the same license used to manage the evolution of GNU/Linux – in choosing the GPL, we’ve opened the door to comingling the communities, and the code itself. (And yes, we picked GPL version 2 – version 3 isn’t available, but we like where the FSF is headed.)
Picking a license was a very complex task – we took an enormous breadth of issues to heart in making the selection, from protecting our customers and licensees, to continuing to foster a wildly successful developer community. We had to worry about device manufacturers, media standards, big enterprise systems, government and military deployments – remember, more businesses and devices leverage Java than any other development platform. This was no simple feat.
So to the legal team at Sun, and our friends at the Free Software Foundation – I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks. We could not have gotten here without you. If Shakespeare had understood intellectual property, he never would have said all those mean things.
And in closing, I want to put one nagging item to rest.
By admitting that one of the strongest motivations to select the GPL was the announcement made last week by Novell and Microsoft, suggesting that free and open source software wasn’t safe unless a royalty was being paid. As an executive from one of those companies said, “free has to have a price.”
Free software can be free of royalties, and free of impediments to broadscale, global adoption and deployment. Witness what we’ve done with Solaris, and now, what we’ve done with Java. Developers are free to pick up the code, and create derivatives. Without royalty or obligation.
Those that say open source software can’t be safe for customers – or that commercially indemnified software can’t foster community – are merely advancing their own agenda. Without any basis in fact.
They’re also fighting a rising tide.