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Leading-Edge Java
Sun opens the Jini Licensing Model
A Conversation with Jim Hurley and Bob Scheifler
by Bill Venners
June 7, 2005

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Jini technology has a new licensing model. Sun originally released Jini technology under the Sun Community Source License (SCSL), but recently opened the licensing model and began releasing their specifications and implementations under Apache 2. In this interview, Bill Venners discusses this change with Jini team members Jim Hurley and Bob Scheifler.

In 1998, Sun Microsystems released Jini network technology [1] under the Sun Community Source License (SCSL) [2]. The SCSL blended aspects of proprietary and open source licensing models. The license allowed source code to be shared among a community of developers, but required and enforced compatibility through compliance testing. Although the SCSL license enabled a community to grow around Jini technology, sometimes the license's complexity and constraints worked as a barrier to adoption for Jini. Recently, Sun changed the licensing model for Jini technology, and began releasing their standards specifications and implementations under the Apache 2 license [3]. In this interview, Bill Venners speaks with two members of Sun's Jini team, Jim Hurley and Bob Scheifler, about the licensing model change.

Jim Hurley is a Senior Engineering Manager at Sun. As the Jini Community Manager, Hurley helps to oversee the overall health and growth of the Jini Community. He serves as both a member of the Jini Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) [4] and the Community Executive. Bob Scheifler is a Sun Distinguished Engineer and architect in the Jini group. Scheifler, who led the development of the X Windows System, was more recently the driving force behind the design of Jini's security model, developed under the Davis project. Today he continues to provide technical leadership in Sun's Jini group and serves as a member of the Jini Community's TOC.

A new license model for Jini

Bill Venners: Jini has undergone a license model change. What are the details of this change, and what are the reasons behind it?

Bob Scheifler: Sun has opened up the licensing model for Jini technology, and in doing so, has given developers much broader freedoms in licensing their Jini technology works. We've moved from the Sun Community Source License (SCSL) model to one in which developers can decide if and how they want to license their research or commercial Jini technology-based code, specifications, or products. In order to accomplish this model change, Sun implemented three fundamental steps:

We're also committed to re-licensing the rest of our Jini technology standards and implementations under Apache 2.

The net result is a license model for Jini technology that is very open, and that gives developers and companies a great degree of freedom of choice.

Jim Hurley: One of the key reasons for this model change was to remove barriers to Jini technology. We've got this incredible technology, and for some the SCSL license was an inhibitor to both research and commercial efforts. Our goal is to have broader adoption, use, and technical advancement of Jini technology. This is a move to help facilitate that—essentially, make the license model broadly acceptable so that the focus can be on the technology and community (not the license). We think the greater openness, accessibility, and new opportunities created by this license model change will help fuel continued strong interest in Jini technology and activity in the Jini Community. We're very excited about it.

What about compatibility?

Bill Venners: My understanding is that the main reason Sun took the SCSL approach originally was to help ensure compatibility between different vendor's implementations of Jini technology. What does Jini being released under an open source license mean for compatibility?

Jim Hurley: Compatibility in commercial products was certainly a key component of the SCSL model, but I wouldn't classify it as the main reason for Sun designing the SCSL. If you go back to the early days of Jini technology—Bill Joy, Ken Arnold, and the rest of the Sun Jini team were trying to define a model which would help build a developer community around the technology. A community in which individual developers and commercial companies would be interested in engaging, sharing, and collaborating. There was a desire for experimental research to take place, and only when a company commercially sold or deployed a Jini-based solution would a requirement on compatibility be present. Looking back, I'd venture that the SCSL did help us get a great start on building a vibrant community.

Bob Scheifler: To clarify one other part of your question, "Jini being released under an open source license," isn't totally accurate. Sun has opened up the licensing model for Jini technology, and has chosen an open source license, Apache 2, for our contributions, but others have the freedom to choose whatever license they want for their Jini technology works. We hope the common choice is an open source license—and Apache 2 to be specific—but there may be reasons certain individuals or companies decide on other licensing terms for their shared works.

Jim Hurley: But getting back to answer your compatibility question: Compatibility still remains very important for Jini technology and the community. We have eliminated the license-enforced aspect of compatibility of commercial solutions, but Sun does believe that compatibility is still of great importance and have been told by many in the community that they share that belief.

Bob Scheifler: There are multiple aspects to compatibility to consider. For example, one possible goal is to have portability (across vendors over time), another is to have network interoperability (between vendors at the same time). Compatibility can help define and shape the community, and it can also be used to create value for a brand. You can think about compatibility with individual standards, or with an aggregation of standards into some form of platform or environment. Social and economic pressures can still be used to promote and maintain compatibility in all of these dimensions. We'll continue to provide the tests that were included in the licensed-enforced Technology Compatibility Kit [7], and we encourage everyone to hold vendors accountable for passing them. And we're interested in community discussions about what else can be done.

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