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Sun, Java, and the Middle Course

Passing the Reins

Against that backdrop, seismic changes are rippling through Sun management. After 22 years, CEO Scott McNealy has passed the reins of the chariot to Jonathan Schwartz, who may be the most open CEO in the Fortune 500: At least he's the only one with his own blog. Schwartz, the buzz has it, is making Sun interesting again. Rich Green, who was once Sun's chief Java advocate and played key roles in Java Studio Creator, JVM, and Sun's battle with Microsoft over Java, has returned as EVP/Sun Software. Last year, cofounder Andy Bechtolscheim returned in an acquisition after a nine-year absence. Other returnees include Peter Ulander and Karen Tegan-Padir.

Largely because of these changes, BusinessWeek recently picked Java, familiar old Java, as a key technology to watch. That actually makes sense: With the exception of Bechtolscheim, most of these people are software focused, and most are focused on Java. It is reasonable to expect a significant shift in emphasis at Sun, placing (even) more emphasis on software, on Java, and on the themes of openness, community, and compatibility. "Software is in the ascendant at Sun Microsystems," Gavin Clarke of The Register keeps telling us. At this point I think we can safely add, "No duh."

When Apollo passed the reins of the chariot of the sun to young Phaeton, the godling's maiden flight didn't go well. Change always carries risk, but not changing with the times carries the certainty of death. For a high-tech company, it's not a question of whether you change with the times, but how.

Oops. I really didn't mean to steal the best line from JavaOne. You know:

Schwartz, standing in front of 14,000 developers: "Will Sun open source Java?"

Green, looking uncomfortable: "It is not a question of whether, but...of how."

How, indeed.

If I were Rich Green, I'd prefer this not to be the question on everyone's lips, even if I knew the answer, because it masks the consistent commitment to openness at Sun. But there's your CEO front-burnering the question in front of 14,000 developers, so it's got to be addressed. Just Sun being open about openness, you might say.

So if those are the accepted terms for the discussion, and if it's not a question of whether but how, we'll bite: How?

My hope is that Schwartz and Green think they know the answer or they are prepared to reexamine the issue with fully open eyes, considering, as Schwartz says they are, even a GPL license. I wonder. Can they actually open source Java, just like that, no obfuscation or equivocation or inventing new forms of openness, but just do it?

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