What if? What not? On the importance of community

In a previous post, Make or buy? Home, sweet home — on the web, I argued that the most important decision facing a corporation considering starting a major open-source project is whether to build a community from scratch or buy into an existing community.

Sometimes there is no choice since there is no suitable existing community.

But if there is a suitable existing community then I think it is better to join that community than to build a new one from scratch.

That to me is the most surprising aspect of the SUN/FSF alliance and the recent announcement of the release of Java in open-source form under gplv2.

Why didn’t Sun leverage the existing Apache and Eclipse communities?

Now of course this was Sun’s decision to make, so I’m offering these thoughts here just to shed some insight on the various options that come into play when making this sort of choice.

But I expect the following announcement would have had a greater impact, and would have made a favorable outcome more likely.

In simple language, why didn’t Sun announce the following:

We’ve been working on Java for almost 15 years, and have been considering making Java more open for at least half of them. [1]

We have decided to make Java open-source. We seek to make it available to the widest possible audience, under a license compatible with existing open-source efforts around Java.

Accordingly, we are handing it over lock, stock and barrel to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

We look forward to working with the ASF to make Java a truly open platform.


1. Sun made some noises about offering Java for ECMA standardization in late 1999. I decided to no longer work on Java when this fell though, believing then that Sun would make no meaningful effort towards making Java more open for the forseeable future.


  1. Posted November 29, 2006 at 15:11 | Permalink | Reply

    They joined forces with the one community that’s been successfully working on making open source Java come true for around 10 years: the community around FSF’s GNU Classpath project.

    The licenses chosen are compatible with the existing open source efforts: FSF’s and those around it. They are also compatible with the nascent effort at Apache:

    ASF’s certificate of incorporation though quite clearly says

    “creation and maintenance of “open source” software distributed by the Corporation to the public at no charge”

    which does not exclude GPLd software.

    ASF-internal politics may have lead to ASF members deliberately avoiding GPLd code (though I’ve just seen GPLd code being deliberately used in Harmony, oh the shock, oh the horror :), but that sort of dogmatic inconsistency is ASF’s internal problem, not someone else’s.

  2. Posted November 30, 2006 at 15:40 | Permalink | Reply

    Bzzt, sorry, Dalibor. There is no inconsistency. Choosing to support one type of licence and not another isn’t inconsistent, any more than only implementing part of a standard is. There’s nothing ‘internal politics’ about it; the ASF avoids GPLed code because of the licence’s contaminatory aspects. That’s not a condemnation, just an observation of the effect of the GPL’s terms.

  3. Posted December 1, 2006 at 15:04 | Permalink | Reply

    Ken, ASF has no problems with code with copyleft properties as can be seen in the last third party license policy, which allows copyleft code like that licensed under CDDL, EPL or MPL to be used by projects hosted by the ASF.

    Nothing prevents ASF’s projects from collaborating on other copyleft code, for example licensed under (L)GPL. It’s a deliberate choice, that will be fixed in due time, I hope.

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