Bert Rubaszkin, the quote master

Bert R working on his sauna raft.

Bert Rubaszkin is the Chief Technologist, CTO to us mere programmers, for Sun Sweden. He is often quoted in such computer mags as Computer Sweden. Questions cover a lot of ground, from Sun servers being tossed from tall buildings to the future of some new Sun technology.

Bert comes across as the wise ol’ programmer who has seen most of what there is to see. Always in a good mood, I find it hard to see him loosing his cool despite being probed with difficult questions. But first, let’s start off with a simple question.

What’s it like being asked to comment on just about everything under the Sun?
There are two problems. If you have worked long enough, people expect you to be an expert at everything. The truth is that you only know a fraction of what is needed, but I do know who to ask.
Another major problem are magazines. They are mainly interested in either new information or mud raking. Some are seriously interested in what has happened, others… they only want to talk about things that don’t work. But it is my job. I just try and answer the question. Sometimes it’s actually flattering that people think I know so much.

Open Source has become quite important to Sun of late. As I understand it, you’re going to open source all of your code. Why?
It is correct that we plan to release all our source code, but I would like to point out that there is no time plan saying that at a certain point in time all the code will be released. The most important open source project for us now is OpenSolaris. The cat is, so to speak, out of the bag. We have been discussing this for several years. Once we took the decision, we needed to wash the code and make sure we had the copyrights to do this.
The effect is quite positive. We now have a community around OpenSolaris 10, and version 11 will contain features that wouldn’t otherwise have made it in there without the community. And bug tracking of course. Plus it defused the Linux versus Solaris debate. We can now discuss things with our customer in a much more interesting way. Someone at Sun said “It’s not about the code stupid, it’s about the dialogue!”
Internally it has also been a vitamin injection. Involvement is a lot higher. Everything we wished for has happened.
There was a suspicion that we would only let go of the old stuff. Instead we released innovative bits like DTrace etc. This has the positive side effect of code going cross operating systems. For example: a group of people are working on a distribution of FreeBSD, which will include DTrace. That’s one example of code becoming de facto standard outside the GPL arena.
Other high priority Open Source projects from Sun are OpenOffice and Netbeans. The end result of all of this is that we get more competitive. We get better tools and the risk of stagnation disappears.

What is the story with CDDL (pronounced “cuddle”), Common Development and Distribution License? Wasn’t the Mozilla open source license good enough for Solaris?
I’m no expert on licensing but CDDL is based on Mozilla except for the one paragraph that states that the license can be changed at any given moment. It doesn’t even require any approval. Our big clients don’t accept this single difference.

Most readers of JayView already know about the resurgent Javaforum. Apart from that, what is the status of Java in Sweden? Can you spot any trends?
Trends are meta trends and so… What I see from my angle is that Java still dominates the server side. Microsoft probably would have hoped that it would have made a more visible dent in the server side of things. We see very little impact from Dotnet among our customers.
The meta trend is SOA and web services and how to interact in a mixed environment such as Java and Dotnet. We work together with Microsoft on this and more is going to happen. J2EE dominance on the server is not threatened. From a customer point of view, it’s good to be able to encapsulate web services in the different worlds and that there is a consensus on how to interact between the two.
Looking on Java end-to-end, we’ve only started. There have been problems with limited midp hardware and different profiles between small devices. These mobiles will be more powerful. The problem of coping with differences between small platforms will be forgotten in 5 years.
We’re not there yet… but the APIs will be the same and so on.

Q: Sun has had this ambiguous relationship where it both owns Java, but also lets it play with the programmers on the block. It’s not hard too find examples of changing times. Take for example the Apache Harmony project (an open source implementation of Java 5 SE) or the interest in dynamic languages and the effort to provide support for these in the JVM in Java 6 SE. Are Sun’s dual roles over Java changing?
There is a concept within Sun which refers to “church and “state” as far as Java is concerned. Some work within the state it’s no more difficult than that. Java is a big investment for Sun and we want to see it spread, to complete its potential. It’s important that standards are kept and that nobody can corrupt them. Journalists typically want to make a big thing out of this. Our customers think JCP (Java community process) works. Maybe it is true that Sun has been able to keep the two roles apart and at the same time have products.
One strategy that we have followed is that every time there has been a split view, a 50-50 vote, on any subject within a JCP committee, we haven’t used our deciding vote. We’ve actually let the other point of view “win”. I believe that off the record even IBM will agree to this. The common denominator for those who complain, is that they haven’t actually looked into the JCP. It’s rather quick work nowadays. In the beginning some smaller companies complained, but that has been resolved. It’s rare to hear someone say “Damn Sun”.

Java is more of an ecosystem than just a language. What’s the status of that system today? And where is it going?
A flora of tools and frameworks has grown up, but doesn’t necessarily run within the JCP. Java is sort of the centre and further out are things like Ajax. You can go far out from the middle of this system and that is a good thing. James Gosling himself thinks this is very good. He was asked what happens if something can be done smarter in a different language to Java.
“I’m all for it!” That goes for most Sun folks. There is no single person in the world that can answer all the questions within that field – that’s good.

At the far end of that ecosystem I actually place Microsoft and C#. Some of the recent improvements in Java were inspired by the “other camp”, just as ideas and open source flow in the other direction. To me this is “competing symbiosis”. Take away one and the other would stagnate, much like Internet Explorer vs. Netscape. What’s your view on this?
It’s good with competition, but I’m critical of the fact that Microsoft with a budget exceeding some countries’ GNP cannot produce anything better than a pure Java clone, C#, with some minor improvements. Pitiful! But then again, competition is good. The Java community has a keen ear for improvements.
I have to give Microsoft credit for building tools that are easy to use. But this is partly at the expense of power and has meant that some things have not been developed. For instance, I’m totally convinced that Excel is a threat to mankind. People make decisions based on small errors that are impossible to debug.
If we at Sun can maintain the power and at the same time increase ease of use.

What is the best/worst thing that has happened in Java?
The best thing that is happening right now it is that we succeeded with Javaforum. It’s an embryo for an independent organisation. Tremendous. On a more technical level there are lots of good things happening. One thing that I like, but I would not classify it as “tremendous”, is annotation in Java 5.
The worst thing that has happened in Java was Microsoft signing an agreement, only to break it again immediately after. That wasn’t nice – not funny at all. But what was funny was them being made to pay.

Looking into your crystal ball, where is Java heading? Is there a device that will _not_ hold a JVM?
Different times place different demands on tools. Java’s dominance will be broken sooner or later. For instance, there are more network-oriented languages at academic level. Old languages don’t die. Look at how much Cobol code there is.
Java was the fist programming language for the net and shows no signs of old age. I would guess that Java will have a lifecycle similar to Cobol. It will take hundreds of years before it disappears – ha ha.

It has been said that Java will be the Cobol of the future. I dare you to make a guess at when that will be!
20 years from now it will be legacy. Not within five.

I once managed to make James Gosling speechless. He was taking questions from the audience and I managed to sneak in _”What’s the meaning of Java, as in ‘what’s the meaning of life’?”_ What’s your take on that?
It was the first programming system built for the net, just as NFS was the first file system for the net. That was the meaning.

Dang, I thought that at least the last question would stomp Bert.

Originally published in JayView.

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