Apache To Battle Oracle over Future of Java

The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) said Tuesday it will quit the Java Community Process (JCP) if Oracle doesn't lift usage restrictions it has imposed on Java and truly support the open-source status of the technology.

It has charged Oracle with "failing to uphold their responsibilities as a Specification Lead" in the JCP, and it is encouraging members of the JCP Executive Committee to vote against Oracle's upcoming Java SE 7 specification if the company doesn't shape up.

The ASF Board posted a statement of its intentions on the group's blog, claiming 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."

Specifically, the ASF is objecting to Oracle's decision to offer 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 agreement under which Oracle and the ASF participate in the JCP entitles the ASF to a license for the TCK that will allow the organization to test and distribute a release of the Apache Harmony project under the Apache License, the ASF argues.

"The ASF believes that any specification lead that doesn't follow the JCP rules should not be able to participate as a member in good standing," the blog stated, "and we have exercised our votes on JSRs -- our only real power on the JCP -- accordingly."

The Foundation was ratified for another three-year term on the JCP Executive Committee by a 95 percent of the voters last month. But the board says it will "terminate its relationship with the JCP if our rights as implementers of Java specifications are not upheld by the JCP Executive Committee to the limits of the EC's ability. The lack of active, strong and clear enforcement of those rights implies that the JSPA agreements are worthless, confirming that JCP specifications are nothing more than proprietary documentation."

The JSPA (Java Specification Participation Agreement) is the contract under which an entity becomes a member of the JCP.

The ASF's charge is not a new one. Apache has been pursuing a license for this test kit since August 2006, and the ASF Board made this very claim against Sun Microsystems last December, asserting that the then steward of Java was in similar breach of their JSPA contract. After casting the only nay vote for the Java EE 6 spec (which was approved by the JCP Executive Committee) Geir Magnusson, Jr., director of the ASF and that group's representative to the JCP, explained the Foundation's position to ADT in an e-mail, using some of the same language found in the current blog post:

"The vote hinged on the ASF's policy that any member of the JCP who does not abide by their obligations under the rules and agreements of the JCP should not be able to participate in, let alone lead, a JSR," Magnusson wrote. "...The ASF contends that Sun Microsystems is in breach of their contractual obligations under the JSPA, as well as acting in a way contrary to the community expectations of a spec lead, as well as public promises made to the Java community at large by its corporate officers. Thus the 'no' vote for the Sun-led JSRs at the last ballot."

In fact, the rules of the JCP require that "the Java SE 6 TCK will be offered for license at no charge, with trademark and branding rights, but without support, to qualified not-for-profit entities (including not-for-profit academic institutions) and qualified individuals engaged in efforts to create compatible implementations of the Java SE 6 Specification."

Magnusson is the creator of Apache Harmony, the ASF's open source Java SE project, which was dealt a blow recently when IBM announced that it would be "shifting its development effort from the Apache Project Harmony to OpenJDK." The ASF needs the TCK to demonstrate Harmony's compatibility with the Java SE spec.

At the time, Rod Johnson, founder of VMware subsidiary SpringSource and member of the JCP Executive Committee said he ASF's charges raised legitimate concerns about the credibility of the JCP. "I mean, the JCP is either it's open or it's not," he said. "I have a lot of sympathy for the Foundation on this issue."

Oracle had not returned calls for comment at press time.

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].