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Java Open Source Move Leaves Wiggle Room

With all the hoopla it could muster, Sun Microsystems made Java, its portable programming language and closely held software gem, an open source commodity last week. The highly anticipated move means more technology products based on Java and more street cred for Sun.

Sun pushed Java into the public domain by adopting a version of the General Public License, the same license that covers Linux. Sun's move "requires people to understand the GPL," says Doug Levin, president of Black Duck, a company that inspects code for segments that might be derived from open source forebears, GPL-licensed or otherwise.

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Shot o' joe: Linux developers can inject Java, says Green

The GPL requires that anything added to open source code covered under it--like Linux--be given back to the programming community and published in the public arena. The GPL that applies to Java, however, allows for a "class path exception," which means that an application built on top of the Java Virtual Machine can be excepted from the GPL. That lets developers retain the right to sell their Java-based applications as proprietary products. Before, vendors that built Java products, such as BEA Systems and Oracle, had to shell out for a commercial Java license from Sun, which is still available.

Linux distributors "will soon be able to include the JDK as part of the repositories that are included with Linux," noted Sun executive VP for software Rich Green. That's good news for smartphone and other mobile device makers, which frequently match up Java with the Linux kernel for special features on their devices. Sun claims there are 3.8 billion Java-enabled smart cards and mobile devices.

As for companies that develop applications in-house using Java, they won't have to put their valuable intellectual property into the public domain. Plenty of corporate developers are familiar with Java: To seed the corporate environment, the Java Development Kit and Java Virtual Machine always have been available for free to noncommercial developers.

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