The Apache Software Foundation, a key contributor to the Java language, has resigned from the Oracle-dominated Java Community Process (JCP), which provides technology additions to Java.
The move was prompted by procedural and technical issues that are somewhat convoluted for non-JCP members to grasp. But the withdrawal of the high-profile advocate of open source code may still produce fallout that Oracle, accused of trying to stifle a potentially competing Apache Harmony initiative, would rather avoid.
In a recent vote, several executive committee members voted with the foundation against proceeding on the next two versions of Java until the Harmony issue was resolved.
The Apache Foundation has insisted that if Java Standard Edition is open source code, then the foundation has a right to create an alternative, compatible version of the Java Virtual Machine. The code exists, produced by Apache’s Harmony project. But Harmony’s developers can’t get access to the large library of compatibility tests — over 30,000 of them — now controlled by Oracle.
Running Harmony through the tests would potentially certify it as a Java-compatible product and offer the marketplace a second source of the JVM. In the open source world, that’s considered fair play; Oracle appears to think otherwise.
The foundation previously sparred with Sun Microsystems on the same issue when Sun shepherded the community process. Since Sun’s takeover by Oracle, Apache has sought access to the tests and solicited recognition from Oracle that Harmony has a right to exist under Apache’s own open source software license. It’s failed to obtain a commitment from Oracle on either point. Before the vote to proceed with Java Standard Editions 7 and 8 this week, it announced it opposes continuation and would resign if a majority of the executive committee refused to support its stance.
That move picked up support from Google, which has been a strong Java backer since Sun made its Java open source commitment. (Oracle is suing Google over the use of a look-alike Java virtual machine in its Android mobile operating system.) IBM, SAP, the Eclipse Foundation, and Credit Suisse voted with Oracle on continuation but added comments that Oracle should live up to the open licensing rules governing the JCP.
But halting progress on Java was too large a pill for a majority of the remaining members to swallow, and the vote authorized continued work on SE 7 and 8.
Two individuals on the executive committee appointed to represent the interests of independent Java developers supported the Apache position.
“The last straw for me was Oracle’s failure to address the ambiguous licensing terms (in Java specification requests for SE7 and 8)… At first I abstained, but I was so dismayed by Oracle’s silence that I changed my vote to no,” wrote Tim Peierls in a blog posted Dec. 7.
The second independent representative, Doug Lea, declined to stand for re-election to the executive committee, explaining in an Oct. 22 blog: “I believe the JCP is no longer a credible specification and standards body, and there is no remaining useful role for an independent advocate.”
Oracle has done little that Apache representatives can show provoked the confrontation and might say it hasn’t done anything differently than Sun. Oracle spokesmen were not available to comment Thursday night. But Lew Tucker, former head of Sun’s cloud computing efforts and now CTO of cloud computing at Cisco Systems, said Dec. 9, “We were this close to getting this issue resolved,” prior to the sale of Sun to Oracle. It was Sun’s intent to reach a resolution, he said.
Paul Fremantle, CTO of the open source middleware supplier WSO2, served in the JCP five years ago when he co-headed of the Java WSDL working group, a team that produced a Java API for the Web Services Definition Language. The API became the first part of Java to become open source code, ahead of the language itself.
Reached in London, Fremantle said the dispute appears to be procedural but there is a strong legal basis for Apache taking the stance that it did. Every JCP member signs something called the Java Specification Participation Agreement. He is no longer a member of the JCP, but both he and Apache representatives believe the JSPA requires the Java test suite to be made available to any party producing Java code that will be issued “under a reasonable license.”
The foundation has invested 600 engineering hours by its members and produced a Java Virtual Machine that has a market value of $35 million, according to the Web site Ohloh, which applies standard metrics to the value of open source projects.
Fremantle says Oracle knows such an alternative in the market will reduce its ability to charge cell phone makers and telecom carrier application builders for the right to use the JVM in smartphones, a popular current use and source of Java revenue. Under both Sun and Oracle, the Mobile Edition of Java has not been made open source; Harmony might give the highly competitive mobile phone market an avenue around that restriction.
“Oracle is putting the interests of its shareholders above the interests of the Java ecosystem,” he charged. “If the Apache Software Foundation were a commercial company, it would be suing Oracle” for breach of contract, he said.
Fremantle was an IBM senior technical staff member at the time he served in the JSP. Fremantle’s firm includes 50 developers who contribute Java code regularly to Apache projects.