Improving Java for Linux

Robert S. Thau rst at
Thu Nov 6 08:13:13 PST 1997

Nelson Minar writes:
 > I meant to ask why doesn't Sun lift some of the restrictions on the
 > *source license* for the VM. Binary licensing is a totally different
 > issue, I'm sorry I didn't make myself more clear. Sun's making it
 > difficult to get hands on the Java VM source code hinders the spread
 > of Java, and as near as I can tell protects no valuable intellectual
 > property of Sun's.
 > My impression is that lawyers who don't understand free software have
 > too much control over Java. I say this partly because of the past
 > troubles with Linux licensing, partly because Sun has not effectively
 > embraced the Unix community's strength in supporting itself.

Note that the JVM is not the only thing Sun distributes with obscure
and seemingly counterproductive licensing terms.  For instance, if you
retrieve some of the draft spec documents off Sun's own public web
site, you will often find the following sort of language, taken in
this particular instance from the PersonalJava 1.0 spec:

   This software and documentation is the confidential and proprietary
   information of Sun Microsystems, Inc. ("Confidential Information").
   You shall not disclose such Confidential Information and shall use it
   only in accordance with the terms of the license agreement you entered
   into with Sun.

This is for a document which has been published on Sun's *public* web
site, without any access restrictions whatever (not even as much as
the password-protected Java Developer Connection pages, though even
those are in fact open to all comers).  What's more, the Personal Java
spec was, for a time, prominently advertised on the site's front page,
which pretty much scuttles any case a lawyer might want to make about
inadvertent disclosure.  So any notion that the stuff is
"confidential" --- something that might scare people away from
evaluating it because of assumption of legal liability --- defies not
only Sun's self-interest, but ordinary common sense.

The bright side of this particular coin is that some of these
restrictions, including possibly the JDK restrictions themselves, may
come out of simple cluelessness, rather than malice, and that can be

(On the other hand, it isn't completely obvious that Sun regards the
Linux community as their friends; there are rumors around that linux
has cost them a *lot* of Solaris/x86 sales, and their recent
free-source-code-for-schools program --- which, by the way, was also
hamstrung by a whole spate of nasty restrictions on the use of the
code --- was announced with a press release which said right at the
top that the program was intended to "compete with Linux").


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