Sun SPOT set for open source

Sun is expected to announce this week that it will make the Sun SPOT (Small Programmable Object Technology) device platform available via open source.

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Sun is expected to announce this week that it will make the Sun SPOT (Small Programmable Object Technology) device platform available via open source.

However, some users are concerned about Sun's long term commitment to the technology.

Sun SPOT is a Java-based experimental platform intended to enable development of products like wireless sensors, robotics, and communication devices. The open-sourcing is expected to be made official at the Java Mobile & Embedded Developer Days Conference in Santa Clara, California, which is being held on Wednesday and Thursday (23 and 24 January).

"It is not just open-sourcing just the Sun SPOT code," said Roger Brinkley, mobile and embedded community leader at Sun. "It's everything related to Sun SPOT. It's the hardware, it's the software."

Included in the open source endeavor would be the Squawk virtual machine featured as part of Sun SPOT. Through the open-source move, Sun hopes to attract more developers to Sun SPOT. "The open-sourcing allows a lot more extension and development to occur," Brinkley said.

The plan calls for Sun SPOT to be offered under the GNU General Public License version 2, which means derivatives of GPL code and code that is combined with it must be redistributed. Sun, however, previously has permitted use of the "ClassPath" exception to the GPL, which enables combining of proprietary code with GPL ClassPath libraries without the need to redistribute proprietary code.

Sun SPOT user Bruce Boyes, president of robotics and Java specialist Systronix, praised the technology but had concerns about Sun's commitment to it. By classifying the technology as experimental, Sun shows no published commitment to make it available for any period of time commercially, he said. Systronix has been trying to get a commercial license for two years, he added.

"SPOT is a very cool educational and experimental device. We'd like it to become a great commercial and industrial device too. Systronix would like to help make that happen," Boyes said. Systronix is using Sun SPOT in robots, which could be networked and potentially be used in applications, such as roaming of airports to provide security. "We use the Sun SPOT as the application brain," said Boyes.

He also expressed concerns about the GPL, which has requirements that can place limits on its use in commercial ventures since software involving it has to be contributed back to the open-source arena. "Open-sourcing would be most interesting if there was a reasonable path to a commercial license," Boyes said.

Sun officials were not available to respond to Boyes's concerns late last week.