ESR on Opening Java

February 15, 2004 11:40 AM

Eric Raymond has issued a press-release (his primary occupation these days), asking Sun to open Java:

Today, the big issue is Java. Sun's insistence on continuing tight control of the Java code has damaged Sun's long-term interests by throttling acceptance of the language in the open-source community, ceding the field (and probably the future) to scripting-language competitors like Python and Perl. Once again the choice is between control and ubiquity, and despite your claim that "open source is our friend" Sun appears to be choosing control.

It's good rhetoric, because it builds one highly questionable premise on top of another, and treats both as undisputable fact

Firstly, there's the premise that there is some lack of Open Source adoption of Java. Anybody who has even the most superficial knowledge of Java will know that this is a load of rubbish. Java is buried under the weight of Open Source development it attracts. One of the things that keeps me using Java is the sheer volume of Free (beer and speech) libraries there are that make it easier to do stuff. That Java itself is not Open Source doesn't seem to have done anything to prevent it attracting a lot of people who do believe in free software.

Then there's the premise that if Java were opened, it would see significantly wider adoption from people who are now instead using Python and Perl (which are free). Which is rubbish. People who use Python and Perl are generally doing so because they prefer Python and Perl as languages, not because of any strange Free Software fetish.

Using JINI as an example of closed-source slowing Java's adoption is a bit of a joke. JINI was never adopted widely because nobody ever found any convincing application for it. Raymond, therefore, has to gloss over the fact that unlike his NeWS/X11 example, there is no Open Source alternative that was adopted in its stead.

What Raymond really sees is a lack of adoption of Java from Unix/C Open Source nerds. From Raymond's point of view, the Open Source community is centered around the Linux community: so any Open Source that isn't related to the Linux community slips under his radar. Or at least is able to be ignored for rhetorical purposes.

I really can't see Scott McNealy reading Raymond's letter and thinking "Oh God! If I open up Java, all these Unix/C nerds who don't like Java anyway, are suddenly going to change their minds! After all. So few people use Java, it needs all the help it can get."

Previously: Sam Ruby on the Atom Wiki

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