I’ve been attending the Sun JavaOne conference in San Francisco this week, where the big news is Sun’s ongoing commitment to release all its products under open source licences. Jonathan Schwartz announced a year ago that all of Sun’s products would slowly be converted to open source, and this week the company committed to sorting out a suitable licence for Java.

We reported the same back in 2004, but now it’s fresh from Richard Green’s mouth. Green serves as Sun’s executive VP of software, and made a point of saying that Sun hadn’t quite figured out how it was going to accomplish the task. On the subject, Green said, “it’s not a question of whether, but a question of how”. He backed up his comments with, “compatibility really matters”, when discussing possible fragmentation and forking.

There are now a number of open source licences that will allow the company to release the language in such a way as to ensure that compatibility is guaranteed further down the track, and I had a word with Hal Stern, Sun’s CTO for software on the matter. He suggested that fragmentation was a good thing and that people would be free to modify Java for different platforms and needs – provided it maintains compatibility.

Though Sun promises that maintaining compatibility is crucial and the product won’t deviate from the write once, run anywhere ideal carried through from the first release, the jury’s out on exactly how the company will accomplish the task. The Sun execs are all pointing to the JCP (Java Community Process) as a way to review feedback from customers and engineers and then use the information to drive the spec.

Hal Stern has blogged on the subject, saying:

“The community members — licensees, JCP members, developers, and end users — also have a vested set of interests. Access to engineers, support, and services need to be laid out. This is an equally big part of the “how” process, intersecting the JCP, governance processes and continued innovation in Java.”

I welcome the process as a way for the company to move towards adjusting its business model. Sun plans on making all its tools free and subsequently building a pool of developers willing to buy services, support and hardware instead.

Relying on open source software to generate a demand for services is slowly becoming a proven model, but is it clearly understood outside Sun? With the company still losing money, and all eyes on the performance of new CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, he must be wondering how to convince Wall Street that the model will work.

What do you think of the plan?