by Eric Knorr

Open Source is Coming, Like It Or Not

Sep 15, 20054 mins
Open Source

A funny thing happened to me a few months back after I moderated a panel on Web portals for Sun’s JavaOne conference. A guy came up to me after the proceedings—let’s call him Open Source Angry Guy—and, snarling with disgust, read me the riot act for inviting only suits (from BEA, Plumtree, Sun and Vignette) and excluding the open-source community. I didn’t have anything to do with the lineup, so I cheerfully admitted he was right.

In hindsight, I now think that Open Source Angry Guy may have been a walking omen for the software industry. I’m not just talking about open-source software, wild-eyed zealots or even IBM’s challenge to Sun to create an open-source version of Java. I’m talking about the open-source model of feedback that’s popping up everywhere, in which customers are wrenching control over product development out of the hands of vendors.

Early last year, for instance, IBM called for Sun to release a core open-source Java version to increase proliferation, reduce complexity and accelerate innovation. Without actually acceding to IBM’s demand, Sun has made several strides, beginning with the release of OpenSolaris last June. Then there’s the Mustang project on Sun’s, which lets fans catch weekly updates to Java SE 6 as it edges toward release in 2006. Plus, the company decided to throw its Java Desktop System into the open-source cauldron.

The whole theme of JavaOne, in fact, was participation. The most striking proof of that intent was the announcement of the Java Business Integration (JBI) specification, otherwise known as JSR 208. Its goal is to create a standard Java integration environment to support Web services-based business process management and orchestration. The community can participate by working on Sun’s open-source Enterprise Service Bus, which is based on the JBI 1.0 specification.

Dissatisfaction with enterprise Java development options has also erupted in a surge of creativity. A flood of open-source tools and frameworks have arrived: Spring, Struts, Ant, MyFaces and more. The most radical Java departure, however, has been led by the proponents of dynamic scripting languages, such as PHP, Perl, Python, JavaScript and Ruby. Until a few years ago, I bought the industry line that Java, VB and C++ were so dominant that not much else mattered. But Web apps surged to dominate enterprise application development. The lightweight nature of dynamic scripting enables many more iterations than in, say, some lumbering Enterprise JavaBeans project, so that the final result is closer to what the business side wanted in the first place.

But scripting languages lack the reliability and security offered by Java and Microsoft .Net. So a new scripting language named Groovy—which runs in the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and incorporates elements of Python, Ruby and Smalltalk—has spawned on And there are other JVM scripting alternatives, including Jython, JRuby and Rhino. Instead of some slow, graphical, integrated development environment on top of Java, developers get the scripting flexibility they love.

Programming languages are not software, and few areas of technology attract so much activity around the edges as Java. But the software industry should take stock of what’s going on with Java and the free-for-all network of wikis and blogs that provide the mechanism for its interactive evolution. The software industry, the media I work in, and so much else in our society used to be all about control. But when change proceeds too slowly or when those in charge forget how to listen, the Open Source Angry Guys don’t just get mad, they take over.

Eric Knorr is executive editor at large at InfoWorld. He can be reached at