JCP Exec Quits Over Oracle's Role in Java Standards Org

Doug Lea, a well-known member of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Java Community Process (JCP), through which standard technical specifications for Java technology are developed, tendered his resignation in a public letter criticizing Oracle's "promise" to disregard the rules of that organization to accelerate standards approvals.

"I believe that the JCP is no longer a credible specification and standards body," Lea wrote, "and there is no remaining useful role for an independent advocate for the academic and research community on the EC."

Lea is a professor of Computer Science at the State University of New York and a long-time member of the JCP. He specializes in concurrent programming and the design of concurrent data structures, and wrote one of the first books on the subject (Concurrent Programming in Java: Design Principles and Patterns, Prentice Hall, November 1999). During his time with the JCP, he chaired JSR 166, which added concurrency utilities to Java.

In his letter, Lea went on to say, "For the core Java platform (which these days roughly corresponds to Java SE), the only existing vehicle for which I can foresee a useful role for the academic and research community is OpenJDK."

OpenJDK is the free, open source implementation of the Java Standard Edition (Java SE) specification. OpenJDK is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) with a linking exception. (The GPL linking exception exempts components of the Java class library from the GPL licensing terms.)

Two weeks ago, Oracle and IBM announced plans to work together on the OpenJDK project "to improve the rate and pace of innovation" in the Java community.

Oracle's careful response to Lea's comments can be found in a blog post by Henrik Ståhl, who is responsible for product strategy in the Java Platform Group at Oracle and lists himself as an official spokesperson for Oracle on Java SE.

"I am sad to hear that he has decided to leave the JCP EC," Ståhl wrote, "and can only say that I hope that he will still continue to act as a leader in the community. People like Doug are needed to balance the priorities and interests of Oracle and other big corporations."

He went on to write, "Needless to say, we don't agree with this bleak description of reality. We believe that the JCP is and remains a good organization for ushering the Java standards forward. We agree with the need of continually improving the JCP, and will work on that together with the EC. We also note that the EC contains a diverse set of companies and individuals, many of which are among Oracle's most fierce competitors. We believe that an open, vigorous and sometimes heated debate between conflicting interests and differing opinions is a necessary part of hammering out standards that serve the best interests of Java users, and we are confident that a vast majority of the EC members agree with us on this."

The significance of Lea's decision is hard to measure, but at least some departures like his were to be expected when Oracle took over as steward of Java, says Red Monk analyst Michael Coté. Oracle has invested heavily in Java, he pointed out, and as the new owner of the technology, it probably feels justified in changing the way the community operates.

"What that means is that Oracle would like to see the Java community become more commercial, rather than 'academic,'" he said. "In contemporary standards bodies like the JCP, this means emphasizing the business value of a standard or effort, even at the Java SE level, meaning that people like Doug Lea, as he explained very well in his letter, don't really have a place in the JCP."

And what some see as Oracle's heavy hand on the Java tiller, IDC analyst Al Hilwa sees as necessary to keep the technology evolving at a competitive pace. "Java is itself is facing some challenges and Oracle has its work cut out for it," Hilwa commented. "Its partnership with IBM on OpenJDK is a step in the right direction, but it has to work aggressively to rein in the JCP process, which, like any democratic process that has the potential to degenerate into the tragedy of the commons."

"In this fast moving age of multiplying hardware form-factors and developer platforms (phones, tablets, TV, etc…), Java is at risk of being left behind in the dark ages," he continued. "Oracle has to try to evolve it by exercising potentially less democratic options that may not endear them to the community but are ultimately for the good of Java."

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].