Russel Winder's Website

Oracle, ASF, JCP, and Java

Ever since Oracle bought Sun, and became custodian of Java, the Java community (well the vocal element of it anyway) have been wondering what is going on. At each turn Oracle appears to have been going out of its way to annoy (euphemism!) the FOSS community.

  • The patent and copyright law suit Oracle has brought against Google is clearly an attack on an independent, non-licenced implementation of a virtual machine capable of running Java code. This has been taken as a full-frontal attack on Apache Harmony a FOSS implementation of a Java platform.
  • Oracle convinced IBM to line up behind OpenJDK and the JCP, abandoning Apache Harmony.
  • Oracle have allowed all the independents on the JCP EC, Doug Lea et al., to find themselves having to resign their positions or compromise their beliefs.
  • Oracle has done a U-turn in its attitude towards the Java TCK and the "field of use" issue that was a war between Sun and Apache Software Foundation (ASF). Oracle originally sided with ASF, but has now switched sides to the Sun (aka Oracle America) side, strengthened its position (hypocritically) and engineered a position where ASF had to resign its place on the JCP EC.

It is no wonder that the FOSS community feel that Oracle is undermining the Java ecosystem. Especially after what they did to the OpenSolaris community; forcing the independent organization to quit and hand back all rights to Oracle. Oracle though is not entirely stupid, even as an organization as big as it is. So what is the plan? Well actually it seems fairly obvious. They aim to make proprietary all the technologies they bought when they bought Sun. Solaris has already been re-proprieterized, at least in effect, if not in legal terms. The entire Java platform seems to be next on the list.

Even though Java is licenced under the GPL, all the patents and trademarks are held by Oracle. Anyone can fork the codebase but no-one can create an implementation of Java without Oracle's consent. Even though the codebase can be forked, that fork cannot be marketed in any way, shape, or form as Java. When Java was a Sun thing, Oracle were entirely happy to freeload on all the volunteers and Sun staff work. Now they own Java they want to ensure they protect and increase the income stream generated by the Java platform.

In this light, almost all of Oracle's actions can be seen as contributing positively to the overall goal. In the end all they care about is generating income and making a profit. They see a proprietary Java as an integral part of that. They cannot remove the GPL licence on the codebase, but they can control the way in which the codebase is managed and evolved. Removing all the independents from the JCP EC makes sense in this light. Oracle wants everyone involved in the decision making associated with Java to be fully paid up licencees so that relationships are based on financial transactions and income generation.

Oracle can though make mistakes, look for instance at the situation over Hudson. Oracle tried to make a "land grab" for the codebase and the community in the face of the core development team deciding to take the whole project away for Oracle territory. Oracle claimed that even if a fork was made, it could not be labelled Hudson as Oracle held all the trademarks. In fact they didn't, this was an outright bluff. But at the same time they sent their lawyers out around the world to register trademarks to try and cover the lack of validity of their claim.

Now whilst the vocal elements of the FOSS community are up in arms, will the overall Java ecosystem care? Unlikely. Most organization who use Java don't actually care who controls it as long as it works. If Oracle start charging more for Java, or any part of the overall ecosystem, then organization will pay up as a cost of business and transfer the costs on to the customers. Is this the end of Java? Highly unlikely. Will all the fuss die down during the lead up to the release of Java 7. Almost certainly. Did Oracle win the recent battle with ASF? Not really. Will Oracle win the Java War? With IBM onside, yes they will. Is it sad they way they are doing it. Definitely.

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