Friday, January 28, 2005

Open Source Java

Linux is just a platform and without an application stack, it loses interest very quickly. For it to be relevant, enterprise applications should be available on the OS and they should really be open source to be relevant.

One of the biggest movements of yesteryears - Java - is not yet available in the open source arena. It is one of the few closed down languages, which is funny because Scott McNealy actually used to point out that Microsoft could control the language you speak in the world. Bill Gates got one up on him by pushing C# into ECMA, while Scott simply played around with ECMA until the last day when Sun's lawyers showed up with copyright documents, after Java had gained world wide acceptance.

The last serious effort to develop a JVM - blackdown - was stifled once Sun bought the company (or had some sort of commercial arrangement with them, I don't remember which). You are, since then, dependent on either Sun's own low performing JDK, BEA's JRockit, or IBM's here-today-gone-tomorrow JDK. Sun has no real commitment to Linux, BEA has an app-server which is the primary focus of the JVM, and that leaves IBM to help out with Linux. They have a few open alternatives like their Kaffe JVM.

But the JVM is only part of the story. You need the APIs to make it all work, and today, even BEA uses Sun's JDK along with its JVM. GNU has an effort called classpath, but it is hindered by the fact that the APIs are not complete. There are open source JVMs like the SableVM around, but they are weak - Sable for example is just an interpreter.

There has been wide speculation whether Sun would free up Java. Scott & Co haven't yet figured out how to make money off the language, and it is a money sink for them. Jonathan Schwartz tends to tantalize the world by suggesting that JES is next to follow that crafty CDDL lincense now that solaris10 has been offered under it. While all this is going on, there are very strong rumors that IBM will be releasing an open source JDK soon. That could have the electric effect of jumpstarting Java, especially if Apache or a similar organization creates a parallel entity to JCP to update APIs and modules, and helps grow the ecosystem. Someone might as well create a variant of C++ that you can use to convert back and forth from Java, (maybe Bill Gates should donate the code that converts to C++ to the open source community and win accolades like IBM and Sun are doing through their patent donations).

This is a very necessary milestone in the future of Java. Sun has kept the JDKs free because they would lose support from other vendors as soon as they charge for it. But there is the possibility of them asking for royalties sometime in the future, especially if it becomes technically bankrupt like SCO. Given the last scare Linux had, it would be difficult for enterprises to justify using Java because it can come back to haunt them, especially if their mission critical software runs Java.

I am looking forward to IBM's open source JDK and want to see the reaction of Sun's lawyers (sometimes I think their law team is stronger than their hardware team!!). That would tell us a lot as to whether an open source stack is feasible!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Linux in International Politics

It is interesting to hear that Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Scientist of Microsoft, is trying to set up a meeting with the head of the state of Brazil, one of the largest economies of the world. This is especially interesting in light of the recent push from Brazil in promoting open source. If you have to put a face to the groups that oppose Linux for business reasons, Mr Gates is the likeliest candidate. As the largest stock holder of Microsoft which helps him be the richest American, anything that potentially affects Microsoft market share affects him directly.

We can easily divide the large economies in the world as pro-Linux and anti-Linux based on how much they benefit from Microsoft. Countries like China, Brazil, and large parts of European Union which end up being net consumers of software products prefer the free open source products over the lock-in from Microsoft. On the other end of the spectrum are countries like India which continue to be net exporters of software, primarily services. There was a time when Indian government was pushing Linux in its e-Government initiatives, and then Mr Gates made his famous visit and made them see reason. Microsoft services bring in more money than Linux services do. India would be better off with Microsoft products ruling the world, than Linux. At least until the domestic industry catches up so that it becomes a net user of software.

At that time, we may see similar initiatives from Indian government like China pushing Red Flag.

Countries like Israel which tend to generate software products at a higher level of food chain and would probably win whether they do so for Microsoft or Linux, don't probably care as much when Israel government decides to push for Linux.

In this context, Gates' meeting with Brazil government may be quite significant for Microsoft. This has to be a tough year for Microsoft. First their long standing supporter, the governor of Washington finally loses to his democratic opponent by 200 or so votes out of millions cast. Next Linux appears to miraculously survive the threat from SCO despite celebrity lawyers practically taking over that company. Then Longhorn gets delayed in the midst of regular worms and viruses continuing to get front page mentions around the world.

This also brings to light the significance of fundamental differences between open source and closed source products. The 'closed products' tend to create an ecosystem based on profit, while open source tends to eschew that (jury is still out on JBoss and MySQL). With big companies like HP and IBM behind it, Linux could end up creating a community that also makes money, even more money than a Microsoft employee would make for example. That would turn the tide against MS in the governments of countries that benefit from software services today. And even encourage large companies like Infosys to eschew free licenses from Microsoft and go back to Linux! The open source movement needs all those brains behind it to succeed in creating a large business.

2005: The Year of Enterprise Linux

Now that it appears that Linux has survived the SCO onslaught, it is a stronger contender than ever before to be at the heart of the enterprise. Unix is clearly on the way out, despite the fight that Sun appears to be putting in for solaris. Windows will probably never be the key enterprise OS, primarily because Microsoft itself doesn't appear to be interested enough to make things work with other systems.

As SCO showed over the last several months, patent litigation is the biggest future danger facing Linux. It is good to have IBM on the side of Linux, because the company holds the highest number of software patents. With IBM willing to forgo AIX for Linux, it is likely to play hard if someone else tries to use their patent portfolio against Linux. Sun and Microsoft are the likeliest candidates as they stand to lose the most from the Linux onslaught. It is likely no coincidence that the former litigators have settled with each other. Imagine a combined legal team from Sun and Microsoft veterans. In fact, if that team gets loaned to SCO, Linux customers could face some tense moments.

But not much more than that ... IBM is likely to pull its weight by using its patent portfolio against Microsoft and Sun. As it showed with pulling back on J2EE when it came down hard against Sun, it has the stronger cards. Given that Sun is pretty much thrashing with business models and solaris is less likely to pull it out of the mess it is in, Microsoft stays the bittermost foe to Linux, as has been maintained for the longest time by Linux afficianados.

Unix loses in all this of course. Though IBM stands behind AIX, HP behind HP-UX, and Sun behind solaris, these appear to be the last stances for these companies. The respective OS isn't really as good a differentiator as it was a while ago, and the situation will only move in the favor of Linux in the long run. The primary platforms from these companies - x86/Opteron, Power5, Itanium all support Linux, and SPARC is on its way out, despite valiant attempts by Fujitsu to rejuvenate the line. But if they move to Itanium, that leaves sparc in the lurch. Customers with heterogenous data centers are likely to standardize on Linux variations like SuSE and Red Hat as most of the systems start to support the OS.

This is one macro march that cannot be stopped.

With IBM putting money with OSDL to help reduce threats from Microsoft patents by redeveloping portions of the kernel which could be infringing, 2005 is probably going to be the year when Linux takes the hold of the enterprise.