Monday, August 16, 2010

Java trap not yet disarmed

There is already plenty of opinion written about the Oracle vs. Google action. As a member of the Apache Harmony project I'm an interested bystander in this story, since Android's runtime core libraries come from Apache Harmony. To date, Apache Harmony have not been notified of any involvement in the lawsuit.

Carlo concludes in his blog entry "the open source credibility of Oracle, already damaged by the OpenSolaris affair, is now destroyed" -- and that is the real shame here. Oracle's use of patents in this manner is not good news for anyone in the Java ecosystem who is promoting or using Java as a free and open runtime platform.

Having multiple competing implementations of a specification, that are ultimately held to account for claiming compatibility to the specification by a rigorous test suite, is a good thing.

As is widely known, Apache Harmony has been denied access to the Java SE compatibility test suite in a long running dispute. That situation did not change with Oracle's acquisition of "the most important software [Oracle has] ever acquired". This new action, coming less than six months since the acquisition completed gives me concern for the future of OpenJDK as being the place where Oracle openly and freely advances the most important managed runtime commons.

Contributors to the OpenJDK project have already assigned joint ownership rights to Oracle via the Sun Contributor Agreement. Oracle alone has ownership of the entire OpenJDK codebase.

Apache projects are structured differently. There is no such grant of joint ownership to a single entity, and therefore it would be impossible for a single entity to take control. Apache Harmony is a patchwork of contributions, owned by the community and available to consumers under a liberal open source license. Furthermore, the Apache license has terms that explicitly handle Patent rights (see Section 3), and so it is clear to consumers that they have a license to use any Patented contributions.

I hope Mark is wrong when he says that Oracle are on a "quest to destroy the free Java world" because the only conceivable Java world is one where you can get Java wherever you want it under the freedoms of an open source license. However, it would appear that the trap is not yet fully disarmed, and at least one implementation may be starting to move in the wrong direction.

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