The response to Sun Microsystem?s announcement of its Community Source Licensing initiative for Java has been guarded, with many industry watchers saying the move is a good first step, but does not go far enough.
At the Java Business Expo in New York last week, the vendor said that customers and partners would now be able to download Java source code in the form of version 1.2 of its Java Developers Kit (JDK), from its Web site without paying an upfront licensing fee for the first time.
Other Sun products, including Jini, will also be made available under the new scheme, it said.
However, licensees will be required to pay ?single digit? royalties to Sun as soon as they either run binary, packaged versions of the Java code they have developed in their organisations or sell it on to customers.
But they can now also modify the source code without needing to pass any changes back to the supplier, and can sub-license modified and compatible source to other Java licensees only, without needing to pay Sun or have the transaction overseen by it.
This means that users will now be able to write Java clones or clean room versions, which should enable them to embed the technology and still make money on it - a move designed to try and soothe Hewlett-Packard to prevent it from going alone in this space.
However, the code still needs to pass Sun?s Java compatibility tests, which are being administered by Key Labs. Licensees will not be able to run the tests themselves because, Sun attests, they are too complicated.
Lastly, licensees will now be able to resell binary versions of Sun?s Java class libraries that run on Virtual Machines other than Sun?s own.
The vendor also said that non-Java licensees would be allowed to participate in developing Java specifications for the first time by becoming members of expert groups and licensee review procedures.
Third parties will henceforth be given the right to lead the development of Java application programming interface (API) extensions for vertical industries as long as Sun approves and the work conforms to its API specification process.
And finally, all API specification initiatives will, in future, be formally audited by PriceWaterhouse Coopers to ensure they are run properly.
At the same time, Sun also launched version 1.2 of its JDK, which was rebranded Java 2 to try and make it sound more like a platform than something only tecchies would be interested in.
The offering is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 1999 on Solaris, with the Windows NT port due to follow a month or so later. No timescales were provided for other platforms.
But industry watchers said Sun had been pressurised into its Community Source Licensing scheme by increasing dissatisfaction among its partners about the amont of control it has over the Java platform and specification. One Sun partner said: ?Community licensing doesn?t go far enough and we?re not happy with the way Sun is doing things. We?re a competitor with it now, not a partner, and we?re still concerned about Sun being behind Java.?
He continued: ?It wasn?t such a big issue when Sun was just a Java evangelist, but when it becomes a software company that doesn?t follow its own rules, we may not see Java progressing as quickly as it could if Sun can?t keep up.?
?Although the various Java committees have been quite strong to date, Sun?s recent actions have been causing a fair amount of alarm. The company is setting itself up as a software company to beat the hell out of Microsoft and while there?s not a need for mutiny at the moment, people are starting to raise the red flags. We?ll wait and see how it plays out,? he added.
Although IBM was more ostensibly enthusiastic, it also said it would like to see more from Sun.
Patricia Sueltz, general manager of Java Software at Big Blue, said: ?I?m excited about what Sun has done. It?s great what it?s done, but I would like to see more. I?m interested in the open source model.?
She continued: ?For IBM, it changes very little - we already have a warm relationship with Sun, but I like the idea that stable standards are in the hands of stable standards bodies. It?s great and I encourage Sun to go further.?
She added that she would not like to see a specific consortium set up to handle the Java specification, but admitted that IBM could still not introduce innovations into the Java platform without Sun?s blessing ?because Sun is worried about keeping the Java platform consistent?.
Elsewhere, users were also guarded in their response to the move.
Raymond Demich, vice president of coporate bank sales and marketing systems at First Chicago Bank, said: ?Factionalisation is the main concern, which is why we need a consortium to handle standards.?
Bob Offutt, vice president of Sabre Labs, on the other hand, attested: ?We still need an independent standards body to provide international standards, which are not in place today.?
But Alan Baratz, Sun?s president of Java software, said: ?We?ve put enormous thought into this licensing model. We wanted it to be more open, but to maintain compatibility. Going any further would undermine compatibility and this model makes sense for the next decade or few years. It allows for rapid evolution, but not fragmentation.?
Ed Zander, Sun?s chief operating officer, explained: ?Standards bodies have problems with speed, which is why consortia spring up. Our aim is to spread compatibility and our control is around compatibility. We?ve listened and we?ve tried to see how we should move forward, but there may be other refinements over the course of the year.?
But Baratz concluded: ?We?ll make more money from the Java license now because when people ship products, we get money. The royalty doesn?t change, but we?ve eliminated the up front source fee to get the community working together to get products built. People only pay when they ship their products internally or externally.?
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