The Curious Incident of Sun in the Night-Time
We leave this web page in place for the sake of history,
but as of December 2006, Sun is in the middle of rereleasing
its Java platform under the GNU GPL. When this license change is
completed, we expect Sun's Java will be free software.
by Richard M. Stallman
May 24, 2006.
Our community has been abuzz with the rumor that Sun has made
its implementation Java free software (or “open
source”). Community leaders even publicly thanked Sun
for its contribution. What is Sun's new contribution to the
Nothing. Absolutely nothing—and that's what makes the
response to this non-incident so curious.
Sun's Java implementation remains proprietary software, just
as before. It doesn't come close to meeting the criteria for
free software, or the
similar but slightly looser criteria for open source. Its
source code is available only under an NDA.
So what did Sun actually do? It allowed more convenient
redistribution of the binaries of its Java platform. With
this change, GNU/Linux distros can include the nonfree Sun
Java platform, just as some now include the nonfree nVidia
driver. But they do so only at the cost of being nonfree.
The Sun license has one restriction that may ironically
reduce the tendency for users to accept nonfree software
without thinking twice: it insists that the operating system
distributor get the user's explicit agreement to the license
before letting the user install the code. This means the
system cannot silently install Sun's Java platform without
warning users they have nonfree software, as some GNU/Linux
systems silently install the nVidia driver.
If you look closely at Sun's announcement, you will see that
it accurately represents these facts. It does not say that
Sun's Java platform is free software, or even open source. It
only predicts that the platform will be “widely
available” on “leading open source
platforms”. Available, that is, as proprietary
software, on terms that deny your freedom.
Why did this non-incident generate a large and confused
reaction? Perhaps because people do not read these
announcements carefully. Ever since the term “open
source” was coined, we have seen companies find ways to
use it and their product name in the same sentence. (They
don't seem to do this with “free software”,
though they could if they wanted to.) The careless reader
may note the two terms in proximity and falsely assume that
one talks about the other.
Some believe that this non-incident represents Sun's
exploratory steps towards eventually releasing its Java
platform as free software. Let's hope Sun does that some
day. We would welcome that, but we should save our
appreciation for the day that actually occurs. In the mean
time, the Java Trap
still lies in wait for the work of programmers who don't take
precautions to avoid it.
We in the GNU Project continue developing the
GNU Compiler for Java and
GNU Classpath; we made great progress in the past year,
so our free platform for Java is included in many major
GNU/Linux distros. If you want to run Java and have freedom,
please join in and help.