What users want from Oracle's Java Community Process

Skeptics fear Oracle will continue a heavy-handed tradition, while some see open source efforts starting to sideline the JCP

When Oracle completed its acquisition of Sun Microsystems a few weeks ago, one of the pledges the company made pertaining to its newly acquired Sun technologies was to make the Java Community Process -- the community-wide process for amending official Java specifications -- more participatory.

So far, Oracle has not elaborated on what its specific intentions are regarding the JCP, which for years has been criticized over Sun's domination of the endeavor. Oracle declined to be interviewed for this story; an Oracle Web page said the company has been a JCP executive member participating in more than 80 JSRs (Java specification requests), which are proposals to amend Java.

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But Java developers and members of a JCP executive committee offered varying perspectives on what that they would like to see done with the JCP.

The case for a more democratic, open process
Companies like Red Hat have called for a more open process, with everyone acting as peers, notes Mark Little, chief technologist for the JBoss middleware unit of Red Hat and the company's representative on the JCP SE/EE executive committee.

"Sun has been under a lot of pressure the last couple of years to make things open," Little says. But a lack of openness has resulted in participants in the process feeling they did not have representation or a voice, he adds.

A former Oracle official was not optimistic about Oracle allowing more openness in the control of the JCP. Oracle, says Bill Maimone, now CTO at Oracle database competitor Ingres, does not have a history of having open processes. "It's a proprietary vendor designed to optimize revenue and take over the world," he says.

Siding with people who would like a more open process, Mark Volkmann, a steering committee member of the Saint Louis Java Users Group and a consultant at Object Computing, said his perception has been that the only way to have an impact on the JCP was to work for an influential company and be willing to attend frequent meetings dealing with a particular specification. "I guess in general I felt a bit locked out of the process," he says. (Volkmann notes that he has not personally been involved in JSR development.)

Still, Volkmann says he has seen technologies pop up to improve Java that sidestep the JCP. "A good example of that is the way that the Guice dependency injection framework got started," he says.

The case for stronger control by Oracle
Frank Greco, chairman of the New York Java Special Interest Group, views JCP from a different perspective, noting it can take time to get technologies accepted by JCP. "I think the big complaint is that it's a democratic process" within the JCP, which means things run slowly, he says.

"Democracy has issues," says Greco, who works at Kaazing, developer of a Java-based Web socket implementation. In his experience with the JCP, Greco has not seen Sun as being too heavy-handed. "I think the Java community hopes that Oracle optimizes the process so that things go a little bit faster," he adds.

Another member of the Saint Louis Java Users Group steering committee, Jeff Cunningham, says Oracle could make the process more inclusive and avoid skirmishes like what happened between Sun and the Apache Foundation, which had sparred over issues relating to Apache seeking a Java technology compatibility kit for the Harmony version of Java. Cunningham is a software engineer at Oracle.

Sun, Cunningham says, perhaps did take a bit of a strong-arm approach to the JCP, but he argues that such an approach is sometimes is necessary to get things done. "Standards committees kind of spiral off into thumb-twiddling and inaction," Cunningham says. "I think a good steward of the committee process will endeavor to move something through there and make participants come together and compromise."

Is the Java community sidelining the JCP?
Although Oracle has been silent on how the JCP will work now that it owns Java, the JCP has become more open in the nine months between Oracle's announcement last spring that it would buy Sun to the completion of the acquisition this winter, notes Red Hat's Little. For example, many JSRs now have public mailing lists.

But Little expresses concern about whether there would be a version 7 of enterprise Java: "We'd obviously like to know whether that is going to happen or not."

"I think, frankly, [the JCP] has to change for the JCP to be relevant," says JCP SE/EE committee member Rod Johnson, who is general manager of SpringSource, the developer of the Spring Framework for Java. The most interesting developments around Java happen outside of Sun or Oracle anyway, he says.

For example, although a JSR has arisen based on the dependency injection portion of Spring, developers of the framework took the position that the community wanted faster innovation and having a JSR just for the sake of having specification was not in the best interests of the community, Johnson says.

Open source, meanwhile, has filled in for the JCP process, he said. "Open source has partly taken on some of the role of what the JSR was needed to do," Johnson says.

This article, "What users want from Oracle's Java Community Process," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Java and software development at InfoWorld.com.

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