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For several months now, Sun Microsystems has released a steady stream of software into the open source community. And while it's unlikely that the company will serve up Java for the same treatment (with good reason, in my opinion), it seemed as if Sun was learning how to deal effectively with the open source community.
That's what makes the company's dust-up with Javalobby last week so mystifying. The online community of Java developers recently launched JDocs, an online repository for Java API documentation. According to a statement recently posted by Javalobby president Rick Ross, Sun was the first company the group approached with the idea for JDocs--and according to Ross, Sun management was enthusiastic about the idea.
Last Friday, however, Sun apparently told Ross in no uncertain terms that it wanted nothing to do with JDocs. Ross subsequently removed all of the Sun-copyrighted Java APIs from the site and posted a note explaining the situation to the Java development community. For the record, Ross noted that the only other requests he's received from companies have all asked him to add their java-related APIs, not to remove them.
Sun's management is apparently feeling defensive after spending the past three months explaining why they have no intention of turning Java into an open-source language. Yet as Ross noted when I spoke with him yesterday, it's a bit of stretch to see Javalobby or the JDocs project as part of a conspiracy working to undermine Sun's position on Java.
Nor, for that matter, does it make sense to claim that allowing JDocs to publish the APIs might somehow threaten Sun's intellectual property rights, which Javalobby took great pains to acknowledge. If Sun is so concerned about this, it should deal first with other sites that publish the same APIs without seeking the company's approval.
What does it all mean? Maybe nothing, other than to confirm that someone at Sun woke up in a bad mood last Friday. Or maybe it gives us a glimpse into a corporate culture that, for all of its claims to the contrary, neither understands nor especially appreciates how to work with open source groups that aren't under its thumb.
If you're buying the latter explanation, it should be a lot of fun to watch Sun carry out its effort to establish Solaris as a viable open source project. At any rate, we'll have to keep guessing for now, because no one at Sun is willing to discuss the matter.
As for Javalobby's Ross, he noted that he has consistently been one of Sun's most loyal supporters. "We have no interest in fanning the flames of controversy on this issue," he said.
At the same time, however, Ross probably speaks for a lot of open source developers who are watching Sun's behavior and drawing their own conclusions. "At this point, it's just unclear that the steward of Java will place what's good for Java ahead of what it thinks maybe is good for itself," he said.
"This whole episode has moved me personally into solid agreement with BEA and IBM that the core J2SE should be open sourced," he added.
You can't buy this kind of PR at any price.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this column appeared in the August 24 Linux Pipeline newsletter.