Open Source Java Arrives!

As many of you have likely heard, Sun Microsystems has announced its decision to open source portions of the Java platform. In the wake of Sun’s announcement I have been contacted by a number of clients with questions about the impact Sun’s decision may have on them. Given the high level of interest, I thought it would be helpful to provide an brief Update about Sun’s decision.
Sun has provided a very thorough FAQ generally explaining its decision. The more major legal aspects of the decision include the following:
— Sun will be open sourcing its implementations of the Java SE Development Kit (JDK) specification and the Java ME specification. Sun will also be expanding the open source licensing options for its implementation of the Java EE specification, which is already available under the open source Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) through the GlassFish Community.
— Certain portions of the Java implementations being open sourced by Sun will be released under version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPLv2) with no modifications, while others will be released under GPLv2 as modified by the “Classpath” exception.
— The Classpath exception allows for the ability to link an application that is not licensed under GPLv2 to a library that is part of software licensed under GPLv2 without the application becoming subject to GPLv2.
— Sun will continue to make available commercial implementations of Java under Sun’s current system of commercial licenses. Sun will also continue to offer commercial support for it’s commercial implementations of Java.
— The result will be a multiple-license model under which the various open sourced implementations of the Java specifications will be available under a combination of the unmodified GPLv2, the GPLv2 as modified by the Classpath exception, and the CDDL (in the case of the Java EE implementations), as well as Sun’s commercial licenses.
— Sun has not yet released all of the code to its implementations, but it has established a release roadmap. In particular, Sun expects to release a fully-buildable JDK in the first half of 2007. In the meantime, a listing of the code that has been released can be found on Sun’s web site.
— Sun has not open sourced the Java specifications themselves or the Java APIs, but the source code to Sun’s implementations of various Java specifications. Sun will continue to govern the development of the Java specification and APIs through the Java Community Process.
— Sun will continue to maintain control over the Java name, logos and other Java trademarks by continuing to require that use of the Java trademarks comply with all applicable terms for use, including the requirement that any implementation of Java must pass the applicable compatibility tests before bearing the Java trademarks.
— Sun has established the OpenJDK Community to guide the development of the open source implementations of the JDK. Sun has indicated that it is in the process of establishing similar efforts around the open source implementations of Java EE and ME.
— Contributors to the open source implementations of Java will be required to sign the Sun Contributor Agreement (SCA). Among other things, the SCA grants Sun joint ownership in the copyright to any contributions made to open source Java and a patent license covering the contributions.
The impact and significance of Sun’s decision to open source Java will vary for each company based on how it makes use of Java. For companies running Linux or distributing Linux-based systems or devices, Sun has greatly increased the ability to use and distribute Java with Linux, as both will now be made available under GPLv2. Even for companies that are not reliant on Linux, the decision opens new opportunities for the development of Java-based systems and their use and distribution under GPLv2. However, as with any software licensed under GPLv2, even with the addition of the Classpath exception, some uncertainty will likely exist as to the exact boundaries of the rights of licensees of Java under GPLv2. As I have stressed in the past, you can work to reduce the risks caused by this uncertainty by implementing policies to understand and manage the use of open source software in your company. If I can be of help with this, of course, please ping me with an email.

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