Computer server and software maker Sun Microsystems Inc. said Monday that it had begun to make its Java technology an open-source software project available for free on the Internet.
The announcement represents one of the largest additions of computer code to the open-source community — and it marks a major shift for a company that had once fiercely protected the source code used in 3.8 billion cell phones, supercomputers, medical devices and other gadgets.
Santa Clara-based Sun said it is making nearly all of Java's source code — excluding small pockets of code that aren't owned by Sun — available under the GNU General Public License. The same type of license also covers the distribution of the core, or kernel, of the popular open-source operating system Linux, which competes against Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system.
Making Java an open-source project allows programmers from around the world to examine, modify, fix bugs and contribute new features in Java's underlying code. It requires that any changes be made public.
Sun, a formerly high-flying dot-com that has lost billions of dollars since the stock market collapse of 2000, has hitched its rebound strategy in part to the growing open source movement.
Rich Green, Sun's executive vice president of software, said the company hopes to turn more developers into Java programmers, who may then create additional software to support Sun products.
"The open-sourcing of this really means more — more richness of offerings, more capability, more applications that consumers will get to use," Green said. "The platform itself will become a place for innovation."
All the Java source code is expected to be released by March 2007, Green said. The move covers all Java technology, which includes software that runs on handheld devices, personal computers and servers.
Analysts said the decision would likely extend the life of Java, which was released more than a decade ago, and boost business for the company.
"Sun profits from the Java ecosystem thriving," said Michael Cote, an analyst with RedMonk. "Whether it's their hardware sales or their service sales, by open-sourcing Java they're hoping to ensure its longer life and ensure it's what the community wants it to be."