Monday, November 13, 2006


Sun frees Java, of course

Sun Microsystems has announced they will release Java under the Free Software Foundation's General Public License Version 2. That's the copyright that made the Linux kernel so successful.

This had to happen. No other company in a MSFT-dominated market can announce a proprietary "standard" and make it stick. The only way Sun or anybody else can prevent MSFT from declaring itself the standard is to make something clearly better truly free.

The reason that's true goes to the heart of how a proprietary software monopoly works. Businesses that depend on information technology ("IT") cannot function without standards. For the same reason railroads can't really work when each one uses a different coupling between cars. Having interoperability standards is so vital that these businesses are willing to put up with the tremendous day-to-day costs and long-term risks that come with a proprietary monopoly like MSFT. They want standards but they'll settle for a trade monopoly if that's the only choice. Customers don't want "innovation" in a platform or a programming interface, any more than they want an "innovative" new wall socket. They want their programs to run the same on any Java, just as you want a table lamp to work in any wall socket.

Making a core technology like Java free means companies whose business depends on Java don't have to settle for the monopoly, with all those risks and costs, any more. They can be sure Java's developers will stay on a constructive and stable track, because if Java runs off in some weird direction the customers can fork it and their branch will be the standard. Democratizing the software business works for customers. No room for billionaires, though.

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