Open AND Commercial: Ecosystems in the age of “AND”
Recently, I blogged about Java’s role in the IT landscape of the 21st century. Java is a remarkable programming language; however, the ability of software vendors, like SAP, to develop their own implementations of Java standards and to integrate Java into their respective technology stacks has been a major criteria for its adoption.
I want to thank the community for responding to my blog, and deeply appreciate that many experts have taken the time to write thoughtful articles on this topic. I felt it important to address your questions and comments in the spirit of a real dialogue with the community.
One important theme that has come up and had been pointedly articulated in a blog by Matt Asay and an article by Bob Evans was: How can SAP unilaterally demand more openness without reciprocating accordingly ?
We completely agree that Sun has made significant investments to Java. However, our perspective is that Java has become successful largely because of the underlying promise of a fair and open ecosystem that permits any company to implement Java standards with their own engineers, and define the standards within a community that is built on the premise of shared intellectual property of its participants. Access to the intellectual property of other community members under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms is only required to the extent that is necessary to implement a Java standard. This assumption of openness has not been there in other commercial ecosystems, which are nonetheless thriving, but are not built on the same assumptions as Java. Therefore the same expectation of SAP is an unfair one.
At the same time, I also want to acknowledge that we hear the community’s feedback loud and clear regarding our track record for adoption of standards, and our attitude towards open source. We have already increased our commitment, for example in several Eclipse and Apache projects like Maven, VXQuery, Tomcat, OpenEJB and ActiveMQ and you will see us working hard to do much more.
The Java ecosystem has thrived for more than a decade because of the trust in Sun Microsystems as the steward of the Java language and platform. The control points that Sun has built into their community process, such as their responsibility for Java platform JSRs and the associated right to determine the license terms of the compatibility test were seen as Sun ensuring the health of the Java ecosystem.
However, these control points have now been used to accomplish objectives that do not seem to be in the best interests of the Java ecosystem. For example, in our view the certification process is supposed to provide proof of the compatible implementation of Java standards, but instead the license terms of the compatibility test kit appear to be used to restrict access to Java standards and thus limit a company’s ability to compete in the marketplace.
Yes, SAP is a commercial software company and sells software licenses. If we utilize another company’s implementation of a Java standard, we will equally purchase licenses based on fair and reasonable terms. If we utilize an open source implementation of a Java standard, we pledge to contribute our knowledge and make it better.
We are very concerned that the ability to provide compatible open source implementation of Java standards has been restricted, as widely documented in the Apache Foundation’s Open Letter to the Sun Microsystems. If encumbrances are already in place for open source implementations of Java standards, we are very concerned that the Java platform’s specification lead may use similar licensing approaches to restrict SAP’s ability to utilize Java standards in highly competitive areas such as enterprise-class business applications. There does not appear to be any structural remedy within the Java Community Process to completely mitigate those concern.
Java is at a critical juncture in its evolution. We believe that an independent Java Foundation is eventually the best, perhaps the only way to adequately address our structural concerns with the management of Java standards through the Java Community Process. We believe that an open dialogue is required in order to work out a fair business value proposition for all stakeholders of the Java ecosystem: The Java developer community, Java ISVs and of course Sun.