A new emperor has arisen and has begun consolidating his power in the galaxy. The old institutions have been marginalized and are gradually being swept away. All that stands between democracy and a new totalitarian empire is a ragtag group of loosely organized rebels. It sounds like "Star Wars," but it's a scenario that might just as well describe the Java ecosystem today.
Ever since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems last year, Java community members have worried that the database giant would attempt to seize control of the Java platform. The effort to transform Java into an open source, standards-based platform driven by industry-wide consensus and collaboration was long and arduous. But Oracle has never been one to share its markets willingly, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made no bones about what he saw as Sun's failure to capitalize on its Java technology.
Sure enough, over recent months Oracle has launched its campaign in earnest. First, it announced an agreement with IBM to collaborate on Oracle's OpenJDK as the primary open source Java SE implementation, at the apparent expense of the rival Apache Harmony project. Next it tried to stack the deck of the Java Community Process (JCP) in its own favor by appointing a ringer -- a hitherto unheard-of Oracle customer called Hologic -- for a position on the JCP Executive Committee. Now Oracle has announced plans to offer a "premium," commercial version of the JVM to enterprise customers, including unspecified enhancements that won't be shared with the community-built version.
Enough, say some JCP members. The Apache Software Foundation (ASF), one of the most important contributors of open source Java tools and frameworks, has issued an ultimatum demanding that the JCP enforce the ASF's rights as a fair and equal participant in the Java specification process.
"The lack of active, strong, and clear enforcement of those rights implies that the [Java specification] agreements are worthless, confirming that JCP specifications are nothing more than proprietary documentation," reads the ASF's statement. If the JCP does not side with the ASF against Oracle, the ASF may withdraw from the JCP altogether. Could this be the beginning of the end of the community-driven Java platform as we know it?
A powerless JCP is no JCP at all
The ASF is not the first to object to Oracle's aggressive, bullying tactics in the Java community. Prominent contributor David Lea withdrew from the JCP Executive Committee last month, claiming, "I believe that the JCP is no longer a credible specification and standards body, and there is no remaining useful role for an independent advocate for the academic and research community on the [executive committee]."
Ian Skerrett, director of marketing for the Eclipse Foundation, was less pessimistic about the JCP's role, but had even harsher words for Oracle's handling of recent events. "The basic problem is that people don't trust you and you aren't very good at community building," he wrote in a blog post addressed to Oracle. "In fact you are pretty bad at community marketing." In closing, Skerrett urged Oracle to "get a clue."