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Oracle Not Winning Any Popularity Contests, but Might Still be Good for Java

It's been a dramatic couple of weeks in Java Land. The headline grabber was the departure from the JCP of the Apache Software Foundation. Losing the ASF was a blow, to be sure, but I'm not so sure it's fair to paint Oracle as the bad guy in what is a long-standing dispute that goes back to Sun Microsystems' stewardship of Java.

The ASF has been objecting to the decision -- first Sun's, then Oracle's -- not to provide the ASF with a test compatibility kit (TCK) license for its own Java SE implementation, Project Harmony, since 2006. Without the TCK, Harmony can't be tested and certified against the Java standard. This decision, in the ASF's words, "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 has argued.

Neither Sun nor Oracle wanted to see a parallel implementation of Java, so they were never going to give the ASF the TCK

And yet it was the JCP Executive Committee's (EC) recent approval of the latest Java SE 7 spec that finally became too much for the ASF membership to bear. "Oracle provided the EC with a Java SE 7 specification request and license that are self-contradictory, severely restrict distribution of independent implementations of the spec, and most importantly, prohibit the distribution of independent open source implementations of the spec," read a Dec. 9 post on the ASF's blog. "Oracle has refused to answer any reasonable and responsible questions from the EC regarding these problems."

The loss of the ASF is going to hurt, and Oracle knows it. Big O asked the ASF to reconsider its decision in another blog post: " Last month Oracle renominated Apache to the Java Executive Committee because we valued their active participation and perspective on Java..." Henrik Ståhl's Dec. 9 post read in part. "...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."

Oracle is right to want the ASF back in the JCP, says RedMonk analyst Michael Coté.

"The Apache Software Foundation has done a tremendous amount over the years to make the Java world a better place," Coté said. "The Web server (which is not Java), sure, but the vast array of projects that implement standards and the other libraries have brought millions, of not more, in revenue to the Java world: Struts, Tomcat, and so forth. And now, many of the important and interesting projects in the Java world are housed at the ASF -- Hadoop and Casandra to name two Big Data examples. Java developers and companies owe a lot to the ASF."

"If the ASF, its members, and the projects withdraw from participating in the official Java process," he added, "it'll push Java innovation further from the control of the standards bodies and its patrons. If more people take their toys and leave, as it were, the sanctioned Java world will have less fun toys to play with. I don't think that threatens Oracle, IBMs, SAP or any other member of the official Java world very much in the here and now. But, it does mean that some key innovators (not all) will seek new places to evolve Java. That could mean less control, ironically, for people like Oracle and more hassle when they want to catch-up with and incorporate those innovations if their customers start demanding them."

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, sees the loss of the ASF as bad news for the Java community, but also views Oracle's actions in general as positive for Java.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Apache has contributed enormously to the success of Java," Milinkovich said. "Geir Magnusson in particular, and others at Apache put a lot of effort into making the JCP a lot more open and a plausible process for open source. This is a sad event for the Java community."

"The good news," he added, "is that we now have a resolution to the dispute, and Oracle has made it clear that they are planning on investing in the Java platform and moving Java forward. I very much regret that Apache is unhappy with the way this went, though I don't disagree with their position. I might have had the same reaction myself were I in their shoes. But I am happy that Java is moving forward again. We have been stalled as a platform for far too long."

IDC analyst Al Hilwa sees old TCK dispute as the wrong reason to leave the JCP, especially now that IBM has turned away from Harmony, and he worries about how the infighting is going to affect the JCP.

"There is little support for Harmony," he says, "but Apache is a respected open source organization whose expertise would be helpful to the JCP -- assuming that the JCP functions effectively and smoothly and moves Java forward in a rapid fashion. If the JCP becomes a political body for the various players to grand-stand, then I am not sure it is performing a useful purpose. Java is in a competitive market of alternative languages and environments, and it must evolve and do so rapidly to continue to remain relevant."

Posted by John K. Waters on December 20, 2010