Guardians Publish Open Letter on Java EE Rebranding

Few issues have engaged the enterprise Java community in recent memory quite like the question of what to call Java EE when its migration to the Eclipse Foundation is complete. Currently an Eclipse Top Level Charter project known as Eclipse Enterprise for Java (EE4J), the Java EE 8-based platform contributed to the Foundation by Oracle last year has an enormous developer community apparently waiting with baited breath for the answer.

As it stands, Oracle wants to restrict the use of the word "Java" in naming the now-open platform, as well as the use of "javax" for the standard package of extensions, because of branding intellectual property (IP) concerns.

The potential consequences of rebranding the platform are manifold. Some believe it could have a positive effect. "I do think a variant of the name will help to 'rebrand' the platform," observed Chicago-based developer, blogger, and author Josh Juneau during an online discussion among Java EE Guardians. "It would help the community to clearly see that 'Java EE' was an Oracle-led effort, and 'X' is the new open product."

But Juneau (and most of the enterprise Java community) does want to retain at least some of the platform's old identity. "I think it should simply be 'Open Java EE,'" he said. "Adding 'Open' to the beginning would be perfect, as it would be a re-branding, while also retaining the maturity that has come to be known of the Java EE platform."

Reza Rahman, enterprise Java expert and co-founder of the Guardians, anticipated this controversy and polled the developer community before and after Oracle's announcement (roughly 1,000 responded to each poll). "Enterprise developers are saying loud and clear that they do not want 'for Java' in the name," he told me. "They want the name to start with the word 'Java."

The Guardians clarified the argument for retaining "Java EE" in the newly published "Joint Community Open Letter on Java EE Naming and Packaging," posted on their Web site.

"The clearest evidence that the current direction to rename and repackage Java EE is wrong-headed is community opinion," the letter states. "When asked, developers overwhelmingly support keeping the Java EE name and 'javax' packages (#1, #2). These preferences are so strong they have remained unchanged for several months even despite current declared EE4J plans."

This isn't the first time the platform has been renamed, and the letter points to the persistent negative effects of a previous renaming scheme: "The renaming of the platform from J2EE to Java EE causes continued market confusion even over a decade after the renaming. A further renaming of the platform will likely only add to the confusion. This includes the existence of pervasive resources referring to the Java EE name and javax packages. It will be unclear for a long time how these resources relate to a rebranded platform."

The letter goes on to argue that "further renaming of the platform will likely only add to the confusion," and then provides a list of "sensible reasons" Oracle should allow the Eclipse Foundation to continue to use the Java EE name and javax.enterprise packages. Among the reasons: Java EE should be seen as an integral part of the overall official Java open standard platform; a new platform in which a significant portion of APIs belong in the "javax" package while another significant portion of APIs belong in another package is confusing and inelegant; and a forced rebranding could be perceived at undermining core values of stability and backward compatibility.

The letter concludes with a direct plea: "On behalf of the community, the Java EE Guardians ask that Oracle and other EE4J stakeholders work together to allow the new platform to retain the Java EE name, the 'javax.enterprise' package for new technologies and existing 'javax' packages for existing technologies." It then offers a long list of suggestions for how this goal might be accomplished.

The Eclipse Foundation's executive director, Mike Milinkovich, reacted to the letter in an email: "It is great to see the passion of the Java EE developer community, and the Eclipse Foundation very much appreciates the support of the Java EE Guardians…. While we understand the concerns around branding and package names, we also understand the real-world constraints that Oracle and its partners are operating under with regards to trademarks."

Milinkovich added: "Everyone involved in this process has the same goal as the Java EE Guardians: to ensure that the Java EE technology has a vibrant and innovative future. For that to happen, the technology needs to be hosted at a vendor-neutral foundation that will ensure an open and collaborative community can build up around it. Some disruption is inevitable as we make this happen, and I'm not going to claim that the end result will be perfect. I am very confident that it is going to be [a] massive improvement over the status quo."

"I think being inside an insulated bubble is what the basic problem is at Oracle," Rahman said, "as well as Java EE vendors and maybe even the Eclipse Foundation. We don't want to do the same thing here, but instead do what is needed to fill the listening gap, to connect the dots and provide the conclusions that they seem to be missing."

Most of the people I talked to for this story acknowledged that it's unlikely Oracle will acquiesce to the preferences of the enterprise Java community on this renaming/rebranding issue. Rahman said his organization will continue to put pressure on Oracle and even the Eclipse Foundation. But the Guardians are prepared to pursue practical alternative strategies, he said.

"The next step for the Guardians is to begin actively supporting the EE4J Project, which we have not done that strongly yet," he said. "If the community must live with a renamed and rebranded Java EE, the Guardians should push to move EE4J into a recognized standards body -- a proper, independent, recognized organization with credibility, such as the W3C, OASIS, ECMA, or ISO -- instead of the JCP, essentially. It's something that should have been done a while ago."

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].