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Chief Says Sun Plans to Offer Open-Source Version of Java


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SAN FRANCISCO, May 16 — The new chief executive of Sun Microsystems said on Tuesday that the company was working toward making its Java programming language available free as open-source software, providing further evidence that Sun's new management sees it as more of a services company than a network computer maker.

In one of his first appearances since taking the helm of the struggling company three weeks ago, the executive, Jonathan Schwartz, told a gathering of software developers here that Sun viewed open-source software as a major part of its turnaround strategy. Turning Java into open-source software would allow outside programmers to examine and modify its underlying code.

Java has been one of the dominant programming language of the Internet since its release more than a decade ago and is used in millions of cellphones. But for years Sun's focus was on providing cheaper hardware to compete at the low end of the computer server market with Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other rivals.

Last month Sun reported that it lost $217 million in its third quarter, compared with a loss of $28 million a year earlier. On April 24, Sun's board announced that Mr. Schwartz would succeed Scott McNealy, a founder, who will remain chairman and continue to work with large corporate and government customers.


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Mr. Schwartz has suggested over the years that Sun's future lies in its ability to offer services and fundamental technological tools, rather than just software and hardware.

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By making more and more of its Java technology open source, Sun hopes to increase the number of Java developers and programs and raise Java's profile in the technology industry. The more prevalent Java becomes, the more customers there will be for Sun's support services as well as its hardware, which runs Java programs, Mr. Schwartz said.

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"The question is not whether we will open-source Java; the question is how," Mr. Schwartz said in a speech to developers.

Mr. Schwartz declined to provide a timeline for delivering an open-source version of the Java programming language, saying the company still faced the considerable challenge of ensuring that it remained compatible with other software programs while inviting participation from the large base of independent Java developers.

While the notion that Sun would eventually offer open-source Java came as no surprise, the disclosure was welcome news to developers, whose fortunes are tied to Sun's. Still, developers seemed to agree that turning things around would not be an easy task for Sun.

"With the arrival of Schwartz, who's long been a champion of open source, you can see they are trying to build a defensible business model," said Brian Behlendorf, chief technology officer at CollabNet, one of the earliest Java developers.

Mr. Schwartz said Sun had had considerable success with an open-source version of Solaris, its once-proprietary operating system for server computers. In the year since it began offering Open- Solaris, there has been a surge in paying customers who still need additional support and service, he said.

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