Foundation Java EE: The Community Reacts

Oracle Corp. grabbed headlines last week with a post on The Aquarium blog, in which the steward of Java proposed moving Java EE to an open source foundation, such as the Eclipse Foundation or the Apache Software Foundation.

The post reads: "We believe that moving Java EE technologies, including reference implementations and test compatibility kit, to an open source foundation may be the right next step, in order to adopt more agile processes, implement more flexible licensing, and change the governance process."

The announcement drew mostly positive reactions from the enterprise Java community. Software architect and consultant Reza Rahman, a former enterprise Java evangelist at Oracle and one of the founders of The Java EE Guardians, was delighted by the news, as were many of the other Guardians. Generally speaking, they counted the news as a victory with great potential for the future of enterprise Java.

"I definitely think this is a very positive move by Oracle that we should all appreciate wholeheartedly," Rahman wrote on the Guardians' Google Groups Web site. "It is a foundational and promising change for the entire Java ecosystem and perhaps even for global IT. It represents a critical step towards further opening up [of] Java. The onus is now on the entire ecosystem, including vendors and the community, to make the best of it and actively engage Oracle."

Another founding member of the Guardians, Kito Mann, said he was "very excited" about Foundation Java EE. Mann, who is principal consultant at Virtua Inc., specializes in enterprise app architecture, training, development, and mentoring with JavaServer Faces, HTML5, portlets, Liferay and Java EE technologies.

"I think moving Java EE to an open source foundation guarantees that it has a bright future," Mann told me, "and that it will continue to grow with help from the community, as well as other vendors. Most importantly, I'm hopeful that this will accelerate the rate of releases and the pace of innovation."

Martijn Verburg, CEO of jClarity, co-organizer of the London Java User Group, and a member of the Java Community Process (JCP) Executive Committee, also sees potential in the idea.

"Oracle opening up the technical part of Java EE is very, very welcome," Verburg said in an e-mail, "and will be of benefit to Oracle itself (they can share the heavy burden of the workload). However, it comes with one massive caveat: At this stage, Oracle will not move the branding over, which I and others think would be of a massive detriment to the newly opened platform going forwards. That issue has been raised with Oracle but I imagine the negotiations over this point will take some time."

If Oracle does move Java EE to an open source foundation, said Chicago-based developer, blogger, and author Josh Juneau, it would be "one of the most significant events to occur in the Java space in quite some time."

"The Java EE Platform, in my opinion, is very mature and it is backed by a large enough portion of the community, large corporations and smaller organizations alike, that it will benefit from it becoming an open platform," he said in an e-mail. "Though there are still many questions to be answered, such as licensing and governance or direction moving forward, this first step is very positive."

Michael Remijan, senior Java EE developer and system architect at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, agrees that Foundation Java EE would be a good thing for enterprise Java. But he also pointed to some likely challenges. He sees "an enormous branding challenge" ahead for any foundation that takes on the technologies.

"Java EE began its life as J2EE, and despite being rebranded many years ago, J2EE is still being used," he said in an email. "The open source foundation will face a similar challenge, possibly even a greater challenge if Oracle retains the 'Java EE' name."

Mann expects challenges, too: "I think the biggest challenge is coming up with the correct governing model. Regardless of what one may think about the JCP, it had a very specific process. We'll need to make sure that Java EE retains an open, well-defined process that still allows for having specifications with different implementations (that is, after all, the hallmark of Java EE). This might pave the way towards opening up Java itself."

Juneau agrees: "If Oracle does hand off Java EE to an open source foundation, such as Eclipse, there are likely to be transitional pains. The open sourcing of the TCKs will likely take some time, as there is probably some work to be done with these before they can be handed over. Although MicroProfile is a good example of how cleanly a project can be moved to an open source foundation, it did not carry with it all the legacy that Java EE contains. So yes, I think that there are many answers that are still up in the air and situations that will need to be worked out in order to facilitate a clean transition from Oracle to any open foundation."

Wayne Citrin, CTO and co-founder of JNBridge, has been watching the evolution of Java since it was five years old, and he's reserving judgment on the proposed relocation.

"It's not clear to me what Oracle really wants to do," he told me. "Do they want to wash their hands of Java EE and let the community maintain it and develop new features? If so, that's unfortunate, as I question whether any proposed foundation and associated community would have the resources to take on this project. (The Java EE Guardians should be careful what they wish for.) Or, is Oracle just proposing a way to formalize community input? If that's the case, then fine, although I suspect there are ways to do the same thing without imposing the infrastructure of a foundation."

Gartner analyst Ann Thomas has seen the writing on the wall for Java EE, and she doubts moving it to an open source foundation will change its trajectory.

"Java EE is now 'end of life,'" she said in an e-mail. "Oracle's action to farm it off to an open source community indicates that Oracle deems it an unworthy investment, i.e., they can't make any money from EE anymore. No one wants to pay Oracle for the right to sell a branded 'Java EE' platform. As I've said before, Java EE is a legacy model that has little value in modern application design. The Java Guardians might be happy about it, but they really need to recognize that EE is past its prime. They should be focusing on lighter weight infrastructure."

She added that "the demise of Java EE" doesn't mean Java is no longer a useful language for enterprise development. "Quite the opposite," she said. "Java SE is all you need for enterprise Java. But developers like a profile that makes it easier for them to include a basic set of classes and APIs in their packages. Hence, developers will value [Eclipse] MicroProfile"

Rahman, of course, doesn't share Thomas's view of Java EE, but he allows that, even if it finds a home in an open source foundation, the platform continue to need strong and energized support from the community.

"The most important role for the community at large and the Java EE Guardians in general is being vocal about what we think the right thing is on the path to fully opening up Java EE," he said. "This, of course, is in addition to the goals we have already outlined in our recently updated charter. This includes continuing to advocate for Java EE, educate the broader community, encourage participation and help ensure Java EE 9 and beyond keeps moving forward."

Several other Guardians blogged on the future of Foundation Java EE. Here's a partial list of posts worth reading. (Thanks to Rahman for the rec):

  • Sebastian Daschner, freelance consultant, Java developers and architect
  • Markus Karg, long-time Java developer and guru
  • Dominika Tasarz, head of marketing and community development at Payara
  • Mark Little, VP of Engineering and CTO of JBoss Middleware at Red Hat
  • Ian Robinson, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect at the WebSphere Foundation
  • Ivar Grimstad, Java Champion, JUG leader, and JCP Executive Committee member.

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].