Sun's has said it will apply the GNU General Public License (GPL) to Java. This means simpler integration of Java-based business code into the Linux environment, according to application developers.
"Java going GPL is going to greatly simplify having an 'apt-gettable' solution for a whole pile of corporate needs," says Ean Schuessler, CTO of Dallas-based custom software development firm Brainfood. Apt-get is a Debian tool for deploying and upgrading software, which gives system administrators installing a single application the ability to automatically pull in the correct versions of the infrastructure on which the app depends.
Java has been the only common language in which useful open source software is written that does not itself have a full-featured open source implementation. Sun's announcement changes that, and represents a boon to Red Hat and Ubuntu, recently made the targets of legal threats from Microsoft following that company's patent nonaggression pact with Novell.
Both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Canonical's Ubuntu Linux boast Java installation tools and support, but until now Java has been a second-class citizen of both platforms because neither will let essential software depend on another company's proprietary component.
The distributions on which both depend, Fedora in the case of Red Hat and Debian in the case of Ubuntu, both have not allowed Java as a core technology. Debian's Java policy says, "If your source package can compile (correctly) only with not free tools (the only free Java compilers seem to be guavac, gcj and jikes, it cannot go to main." While this means that users who want to run Java applets in the browser under Fedora or Debian have to go through a few tricky steps, the larger impacts are on bundled desktop tools and office suite integration with back office applications.
Schuessler works with the Apache Software Foundation's Open For Business Project (OFBiz), and says that GPL Java will enable him to make Open For Business available as part of Debian. "For me, personally, it will mean that I can work on bringing OFBiz into Main and that gives an entire ERP infrastructure," he says. Open For Business includes a common data model and application components for automating business processes from shipping to marketing. Brainfood is already using it in projects for clients.
Fedora has included Novell's Mono, a compatible implementation of Microsoft's .NET, since the beginning of this year. Desktop Mono applications already available on Fedora and Ubuntu include search system Beagle, F-Spot for managing photos, and the Tomboy note-taking tool. Meanwhile, Java had been out in the cold where distribution integration is concerned, resulting in trouble for some users.
"There is a Java dependency in OpenOffice," says Sam Hiser, Vice President & Director Business Affairs at the OpenDocument Foundation and author of Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop. But because mainstream application packages have been unable to be built to depend on Java, distributions have had to remove some Java code from the office suite, with indifferent results. Stripping out Java support from OpenOffice introduced bugs. "I use OpenOffice out of the box and I always had file incompatibilities between the Ubuntu build and other Linux builds," Hiser says. By contrast, applications that use other extension languages can be more consistent across distributions.
OpenOffice's implementation of pivot tables and support for some live data sources are also Java-dependent, Hiser says. And those live data sources are essential for a new generation of business applications that connect desktop applications to Java-based server software. "The productivity leap is spectacular," says Gary Edwards, a partner in development firm OpenStack Business Systems and a founding member of the Oasis OpenDocument technical committee.