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  1. Technology
October 4, 1998

JAVA FREE SOFTWARE MOVEMENT GATHERS MOMENTUM

By CBR Staff Writer

Linux may be the best thing that’s happened to the hitherto ghettoized world of free software. Commercial ISVs are flocking to support the Unix-like operating system and soon users will be able to download a royalty and license-free version of Java for Linux (and other operating systems) that is completely compatible with Sun Microsystems Inc’s product. GNU, the free software organization is working on a free implementation of the core Java class libraries, know as GNU Classpath, Essential Libraries for Java. These free libraries, coupled with a free Java virtual machine (for example Japhar or Transvirtual’s Kaffe), are said to create a free software environment which can run any Java program. The GNU work will support the complete Java 1.1 API. GNU expects its work to be very popular amongst the programming community. Java is a fun language to program in. That’s really the main reason that the language has taken off so quickly – it’s object oriented programming done right, the group says. Java was designed for hackers to make their lives easier, and that it does very well. Coding in Java is much quicker than writing an application in C++, and as an added benefit, you get platform independence. But it’s not all roses. GNU believes there are also many problems with the Java implementation from Sun. The language is great, but Sun’s implementation could be much better. Sun’s implementation is proprietary – it’s buggy – and it’s slow. Moreover the problems can’t be fixed because Java isn’t free software. GNU says Classpath project provides the core libraries and claims Java applications and developers can depend on them working correctly. If they do find a problem, they can either email us, in which case we’ll fix it as quickly as possible, or they can fix it themselves. Other Java free software includes the Guavac compiler, which is written in C++ and is portable to any platform supporting Gnu’s C++ compiler or a similarly powered system. GNU/Linux is a free environment in which to run C, C++, Objective-C and Java. To be clear, GNU says we shouldn’t use the term freeware to refer to free software. The term ‘freeware’ has no clear accepted definition, but it is commonly used for packages which permit redistribution but not modification (and their source code is not available). These packages are not free software. GNU, on the other hand, says its system is only comprised of free software. Free software is code that comes with permission for anyone to use, copy, and distribute, either verbatim or with modifications, either gratis or for a fee. In particular, this means that source code must be available. A good example would be embedded tools company Cygnus Solutions’ recent enhancement of GNU’s Java compiler. The Cygnus GNU Compiler Java Edition enables Java source and byte code to be compiled to native instructions thereby eliminating the speed bumps of interpreted or just-in-time models. The enhanced compiler is available free of charge but to be effective needs to be used in conjunction with Cygnus’ GNUPro toolkit which enables developers to write embedded Java applications that will run on some 125 host/target systems which Cygnus supports.

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