Trouble Brewing over Java?

Loraine Lawson

I can't speak to the best of times, but this certainly seems to be the worst of times for the Java community.


This week, Doug Lea announced he's resigning the Java Community Process's (JCP) executive committee due to growing frustrations with Oracle, according to Application Development Trends. Lea is a professor of Computer Science at the State University of New York and a well-known contributor to the Java community.


The JCP oversees the standards development for Java technology, but Lea-in a published resignation letter-says he believes "the JCP is no longer a credible specification and standards body." He acknowledges that there have been problems with rules and violations, which in turn created stalemates and cost Java technical ground. But he said Oracle's decision to "simply disregard" undermines the credibility of the JCP.


"If they (Oracle) indeed act as they have promised, then the JCP can never again become more than an approval body for Oracle-backed initiatives," he wrote.


Lea's announcement came on the heels of Stephen Colebourne's criticism of what he called "evidence of Oracle's manipulation" in the elections of the JCP executive committee.


Also this week, the Oracle lawsuit against Google made headlines once again, as Oracle amended its patent infringement case against Google for its use of Java code in Android, which Oracle says was directly copied from copyrighted Oracle America code. ZDNet has the code-by-code comparison, if you're curious, but you can tell from the reader comments that the community views this as controversial legal action, given Java's open source standing.


Meanwhile, in what some see as a reaction to the lawsuit, Google says it will build and deploy Java applications on VMware's Spring Java development platform, instead of Oracle's Enterprise Java Beans platform. At the recent SpringOne 2GX development conference, Google and VMware announced a slew of "collaborative, enterprise-level Java development tools to help interoperability of applications in the cloud," according to the International Business Times.


And - because things just aren't tough enough for Java - Apple says it "deprecated" Java on Mac OS X, a decision that means less upkeep of the platform and perhaps an intent to kill it all together, according to the Register.


No wonder "Concerned Java Community Member" Ian Skerrett, director of marketing for the Eclipse Foundation, is urging Oracle to "get a clue" in a post that attracted 43 responses and 263 tweets.


The one positive headline for Java recently is last month's announcement that IBM and Oracle will work together on the OpenJDK, thereby "unofficially designating that effort as the future of Java and clearing up much uncertainty about the direction Oracle would take the platform," according to an SD Times article published last week.


OpenJDK is a free, open source implementation of the Java Standard Edition (Java SE) specification, according to the article, and is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) with a linking exception. Interestingly, Lea specifically mentions OpenJDK in his letter of resignation, calling it "the only existing vehicle for which I can foresee a useful role for the academic and research community."


IBM's vice president of open systems and Linux for IBM Software Group described the dual decision as an example of a "reverse fork," where people decide to work together instead of separately.


But, as the article points out, there's still uncertainty about what this means for the JCP and and the Java community at large. It also has another downside for some of the Java community: It means IBM will be moving away from its work with the Apache Haarmony, a Java SE project.


Needless to say, Oracle disagrees that things are as dire with the Java community as Lea and Colebourne suggest.


Henrik Sthl, who works on Oracle's product strategy in the Java Platform Group and an official spokesperson for Oracle" on Java SE, wrote this in response to Lea's departure:


"Doug and a few other members of the community such as Stephen Colbourne have made some very strong statements regarding the JCP. 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. "


He also shared Oracle's official response to Colebourne on his blog.


Red Monk analyst Michael Cote, who monitors the Java community, offers a more measured view of the whole JCP upheaval, noting that some departures were bound to happen after Oracle acquired Java from Sun. Oracle wants to see the Java community become more commercial, he told ADT, and "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."


But it does make you wonder - can tech standards bodies become too enamoured of and controlled by big business vendors? Unfortunately, Java seems likely to be a testing grounds for this question.

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