Open source Java will be brought to the PowerPC architecture for Linux and IBM's AIX OS under a proposal floated this week that could eventually benefit the different Linux distributors.
The project would provide a full-featured version of OpenJDK for the two platforms. OpenJDK serves as the open source implementation of standard Java. The ports of Java to PowerPC already exist but would be rendered for the open source realm. "The purpose of this project is to bundle Oracle's, IBM's, and SAP's development resources to provide a free, 'state-of-the-art' Java reference implementation on Linux and AIX on PowerPC," said Volker Simonis, a Java VM hacker and OpenJDK evangelist at SAP who is spearheading the project.
"This reference implementation can then be used by IBM and SAP to provide their commercially licensed Java offerings in much the same way in which Oracle offers its Oracle JDK product based on OpenJDK," Simonis said. "The big advantage for the open source community is that everybody (i.e. Linux distributors like Debian, Red Hat, or Ubuntu) will be able to build and provide free and state-of-the-art versions of Java based on the new OpenJDK platform ports. And of course they are highly welcome to engage in the project as well."
Currently, Linux/Power distributions either come with no Java at all, or the users have to get a proprietary Java Development Kit (JDK) from IBM, Volker said. Or alternative implementations are used such as Harmony. But these implementations are outdated and/or are orders of magnitude slower than recent commercial JDKs, he said.
In his proposal, which was floated on an online OpenJDK discussion group, Volker said having OpenJDK on PowerPC would add the first weak memory architecture to OpenJDK, leading to fixes. "As we already know from past experience, this will unveil all kinds of intricate memory ordering problems. Moreover, adding AIX as a new Unix flavor to the set of supported operating systems will uncover numerous implicit assumptions and shortcuts inside the code base, which only hold true for Linux and Solaris. We strongly believe that fixing these issues will considerably increase the robustness and further portability of the OpenJDK."
The project will initially be driven by IBM and SAP, said Volker. Plans for the project would include: provision of an interpreter-only version of the HotSpot virtual machine; tools and class libraries for AIX and Linux on 32- and 64-bit PowerPC; certifiable JDK 7 on Linux and AIX for PowerPC; an implementation of the C2 server compiler on Linux and AIX on PowerPC; integration of new ports into the main JDK8 and 9 branches.
An industry analyst lauded the plan. "What is new here is the collaboration around OpenJDK and broadening the support to PowerPC," said analyst Al Hilwa, of IDC. "It shows that the OpenJDK partners are working together well and that Java in open source is alive and well. Of course OpenJDK is a GPL (with the linking exception), so a commercial license is needed for derived work, but it is now the reference implementation of Java. Thanks to open source, developers can see with precision how things are implemented."
Oracle declined to comment on the PowerPC-OpenJDK proposal. SAP joined the OpenJDK project last year in an effort to work with developers from Oracle, IBM, Apple, Red Hat, and others on Java innovations as part of the standard open source JDK.
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