Monday, November 13, 2006

Java - Wide Open

Sun Microsystems has decided to make Java open source. Is this a good thing? Only time will really tell. I generally favor open source project, but somehow, making Java open source leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. Those who enjoy sausages (as I do) are better off not knowing how they are made or what goes into them. I'm way past that point with open source, though. I know only too well what can go wrong and what goes into the process.

Call me old fashioned, but I *liked* the idea that Sun stood behind Java looking after it's interest. In general, I've agreed with the evolution of the language. The 1.5 release has some solid features that I've already started using. Will that continue to be the case or will we start to see langauge feature creep? Sun indicates that it will continue to test releases and I would imagine that they will have a lot of influence on the directions that things go. Will they continue to support it financially?

If I think about the work that I'm doing -- what changes to Java does Sakai need? None that I can think of. Oh, it can be more efficient. Recent rumors of it running out of memory are not pretty, but that's not a feature, per se. Nope, I can't think of anything, at least in terms of langauge definition.

Naturally, the Java object libraries will continue to evolve. Sun has always considered the object libraries to be part of the langauge (java.*). It's hard for me to think of it in those terms after so many years of Fortran, C, C++, etc, etc. This is the area that I think open source will improve the process -- get several thousand programmers working on improving the object libraries, push them in new directions, update things as technologies and standards evolve, etc.

Sun's stated intent for making Java open source is to encourage new people to use the langauge for new applications. They figure that it will sell Sun products and I hope they are right. On the other hand, they've lost the IDE race to Eclipse and I don't see most of use buying Sun workstations for our home or office, though there are exceptions. Sun does make some mighty fine servers, if a bit on the expensive side.

So welcome to the wild world of open source, Java. It's not all law and order out here on the frontier -- people do occasionally get shot on the street. On the other hand, there is lots of wide open territory. Open to innovation, crazy ideas, and the merits of hard work.

- Mark


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