When Starbucks grew from regional powerhouse to cultural phenomenon, there was one small problem: the coffee they sold did not jive with their brand. So much so that in 2000 they printed millions of pamplets in the US explaining why it was that even though they really, really wanted to sell organic, shade-grown, fairly traded coffee, that due to lack of adequate supply, customers should be delighted that they were at least committed to finding a way to sell some fairly traded coffee somehow. Over time, Starbucks has offered more and wider varieties of fairly traded coffee, and while many fair trade NGOs continue to complain that Starbucks is not all the way there, they appear to be making progress (not without some back-and-forth). And as a customer who prefers Starbucks when traveling (quad grande latte, thanks) and who also feels strongly about fairly traded agricultural products, I do hope they succeed and succeed completely.
Similarly, Sun Microsystems, the company that probably kicked off the revolution in so-called open system found that it too had created a demand it was not ready to fulfill. Also around the year 2000, customers started to demand all of the benefits of openness, including access to the source code, free rights to modify it, and the ability to build new commercial products on that code without requiring special permissions from Sun. Customers who valued what they got from GNU and Linux could not accept Sun’s “we understand what you want but we’re not going to give it to you, yet” approach. Like Starbucks, the Java that Sun sold did not jive with Sun’s brand, either. Over time, Sun has offered more and more software under the GPL (and other open source licenses), and while many strict free software folks have not accepted Sun’s work as being fully free in the past, yesterday I received some encouraging news: Java is finally free and open.
Hats off to Sun for making good on their word, and hats off to the community that worked with, and some times fought with, Sun and others to make a version of Java that the whole world can feel good about. It is amazing to mark this day as the day of final success for the Java project. Can 100% fair trade coffee be too far behind?