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The Message from JavaOne: Enabling the Community

As Sun's transformation to a completely open company continues, the company renews it's commitment developing an ecosystem of developers around their software.

Sun kicked off their JavaOne conference this week with a new one-day event called CommunityOne. CommunityOne was billed as a “face-to-face environment for participation, contribution and innovation” and, in a way, it encapsulated one of the key messages of the JavaOne conference overall: the increasing importance and evolving role of community in an industry based on open software.

Fostering a community of developers around Sun software is clearly at the core of company’s corporate strategy going forward. Illustrating this, on Tuesday the company announced they had completed the process for open sourcing Java and general availability of OpenJDK. After 12 years of in-house control, one of the world’s most ubiquitous development platforms is officially licensed under the GPLv2.

Beyond Java, according to Rich Green, Sun’s Executive Vice President of Software, it is Sun’s intent to open source 100% of its software. Sun is a $14B company, and for an open strategy applied to a company this size you will naturally draw into your community the technology vendors you closely partner with. Enter Intel.

During her keynote address, Corporate Vice President of Intel, Renee James, mentioned that their partnership with Sun that was announced in January had been charactered in the press as largely a hardware relationship. However, collaboration on software was also an important element of the partnership. As a part of the agreement, the companies have entered into a joint software relationship to develop a number of optimization enhancements for the Java and Solaris platform on Intel Xeon processors.

Already, as a part of the collaboration, the companies have developed a tuned version of Java SE for Quad-core Intel Xeon processors that have realized a 20% performance upgraded over the existing VM. Additionally, Intel is porting Java to their Itanium processors with a expected release date of mid-2008. On the Solaris side, the companies expect to make announcements related to performance optimizations for Solaris on Intel processors — already the most popular platform for Solaris deployments — later this year.

Intel’s collaboration with Sun brings to the fore one aspect of the chip vendor that isn’t widely addressed: the company’s deep commitment to ensuring that software runs as well as it possibly can on the Intel platform. Open source especially is an area where Intel’s contributions have a large impact on developer communities. Whether it be creating open source developer tools, being one of the largest contributors to the Linux Kernel, educating users on Multi-core programming, and now optimizing the performance of both Java and Solaris, the Intel relationship will only grow in importance for Sun as their commitment to open source deepens.

While building these developer communities was a big focus at JavaOne, one shouldn’t think it doesn’t come without its challenges. Ian Murdock was recently hired as Sun’s Chief Operating Platform Strategist to address one of challenges: bridging the gap between Solaris and the developer community. While user interest in Solaris has spiked in the two years since it was open sourced, a developer community independent of Sun has been slow to gather. “On the user side, this makes sense because when someone says they want Linux, they don’t actually mean ‘Linux.’ Linux is Kernel. What they mean is they want choice. On the developer side, I think we need to do a better job of communicating just how great the Solaris technology is. Nothing in Linux comes anywhere close to things like DTrace or ZFS. These are incredibly cool technologies.”

Coming from an admitted “Linux guy” that might sound controversial but Murdock, who was the former CTO of the Linux Foundation and founded the Debian Linux distribution in 1993, has the perspective back it up. And regardless of the operating system, the goal is the same.

“At the end of the day we’re talking about building a platform, whether it’s at the operating system, middleware or web level — and the successful platforms are on the ones that will enable other people as well as the platform vendor,” said Murdock, at a panel discussion during CommunityOne.

If OpenJDK is any indication, the community interest for this model exists. In the first 24 hours following the OpenJDK release, Java was ported to at least three new platforms and several bug patches had been submitted. If you’re a software vendor, what can you learn from Sun’s example? 1) Nothing can move as quickly as an engaged community and 2) no one is more interested in seeing your software improved than the people that use it. May the best community win.

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