Analysts on Apache Quitting JCP: 'A Very Big Deal,' 'Oracle Is the Loser'

The Apache Software Foundation recently made good on its threat to quit the Executive Committee (EC) of the Java Community Process (JCP). According to analysts, this could end up being the beginning of the end of the JCP.

The ASF, a non-profit organization behind more than 100 open-source projects and recently ratified member of the JCP EC, said in a statement posted to its blog that the committee's recent vote to approve Java SE 7 was the last straw, calling it "the last chance for the JCP EC to demonstrate that the EC has any intent to defend the JCP as an open specification process, and demonstrate that the letter and spirit of the law matter."

The blog concluded: "The Apache Software Foundation concludes that [the] JCP is not an open specification process -- that Java specifications are proprietary technology that must be licensed directly from the spec lead under whatever terms the spec lead chooses; that the commercial concerns of a single entity, Oracle, will continue to seriously interfere with and bias the transparent governance of the ecosystem; that it is impossible to distribute independent implementations of JSRs under open source licenses such that users are protected from IP litigation by expert group members or the spec lead; and finally, the EC is unwilling or unable to assert the basic power of their role in the JCP governance process…. In short, the EC and the Java Community Process are neither."

Oracle responded to the ASF announcement in a blog posting by Adam Messinger, vice president of the company's development group. "Last month Oracle re-nominated Apache to the Java Executive Committee because we valued their active participation and perspective on Java," Messinger wrote. "Earlier this week, by an overwhelming majority, the Java Executive Committee voted to move Java forward by formally initiating work on both Java SE 7 and SE 8 based on their technical merits. Apache voted against initiating technical committee work on both SE 7 and SE 8, effectively voting against moving Java forward."

"Now, despite supporting the technical direction, Apache have announced that they are quitting the Executive Committee," he continued."Oracle has a responsibility to move Java forward and to maintain the uniformity of the Java standard for the millions of Java developers and the majority of Executive Committee members agree. We encourage Apache to reconsider its position and remain a part of the process to move Java forward. ASF and many open source projects within it are an important part of the overall Java ecosystem."

The ASF resignation was effective as of December 9. The ASF said that it is removing all official representatives from any and all JSRs and will refuse any renewal of its JCP membership.

In November, the ASF announced that it would vacate its position on the JCP EC if Oracle continued to offer it a license on the test kit for Java SE (TCK) that "imposes additional terms and conditions that are not compatible with open source or Free software licenses." The ASF Board claimed that "Oracle is violating their contractual obligation as set forth under the rules of the JCP" and "failing to uphold their responsibilities as a Specification Lead."

Two other members of the EC, Doug Lea and Tim Peierls, both resigned in protest over similar issues.

The ASF's resignation from the JCP, the organization through which standard technical specifications for Java technology are developed, is "a very big deal," said Forrester analyst John R. Rymer.

"ASF has tons of credibility with Java alpha geeks -- more credibility than Oracle does," Rymer said. "In the ASF dispute, Oracle is the loser, but it isn't clear to us yet who the winner will be. The winner gets the energy of the ASF Java community."

Oracle is making it clear that it owns Java, and it will direct all innovation at the core layer, observed Forrester analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond. The company will be happy to accept the contributions of others through the OpenJDK, as long as they align with its own strategy.

"The OpenJDK is not really open," Hammond said. "It may be covered by a GPL license, but the field of use restrictions and Oracle's unwillingness to give Apache a TCK that grants patent protection creates a situation where it's practically impossible to fork Java or create an alternative VM. If you can't fork it, it's not open from and OSI perspective."

Hammond and Rymer are currently working together on an in-depth analysis of recent events in the Java space.

Will marking the Java VM as closed, proprietary software hurt customers? Hammond said it's not clear that it will.

"Oracle and its OpenJDK partners like IBM and Apple will exert strong control over changes to Java, and as a result Java 7 and 8 will move forward once again," he said. "Most of our client don't particularly care whether their technology is closed or open; they just want it to be predictable and stable."

However, he expects "organic innovation" to shift from Java's core to a higher level in the ecosystem.

"With Oracle calling all the shots at the VM level, other vendors in the Java ecosystem will need to focus organic disruptive innovations at levels above the core VM and language," he said. "Net-net, the battle between frameworks like VMWare's Spring and Oracle's ADF will intensify."

Rymer believes that innovation in the Java space has already shifted to external development frameworks.

"Java EE gets some use, but Spring is just as popular if not more so (depending on the audience we've surveyed), Java ME is a dead letter, and the 'official' Java client frameworks are all lightly used," Rymer said. "With Java SE now a closed shop, we expect development and use of third party frameworks to intensify."

The good news, Rymer added, is that innovation will continue, keeping Java vital; the bad news: customers will have to manage stacks of frameworks, which is time-consuming and expensive, particularly when compared to .NET.

Rymer also believes that the JCP is dying. It will remain in place, he said, but sees Oracle formulating an alternative that "ends the fiction that it is an open process," and streamlines the process of Java technology standardization.

"I'm almost certain that Oracle will not turn Java standards over to a de jure body to manage," he said. "Jeffrey and I expect a duopoly that may operate under the name 'JCP,' but will really be Oracle and IBM calling the shots with the cooperation of less-powerful partners like Red Hat, VMware and SAP." 

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].