Oracle versus the JCP as Java’s future is debated

There has always been an uneasy balance between Java as a cross-platform, cross-vendor standard; and Java as a proprietary technology. Under Sun’s stewardship the balance was tilted towards the cross-platform standard. Eventually, Java was open-sourced as the OpenJDK. However, Sun, and therefore now Oracle following its acquisition of Sun, still owns Java. The official Java specification is determined by the optimistically-named Java Community Process (JCP). The JCP is a democratic organisation up to a point, the point in question being clause 5.9 in the JCP procedures:

EC ballots to approve UJSRs for new Platform Edition Specifications or JSRs that propose changes to the Java language, are approved if (a) at least a two-thirds majority of the votes cast are "yes" votes, (b) a minimum of 5 "yes" votes are cast, and (c) Sun casts one of the "yes" votes. Ballots are otherwise rejected.

In other words, nothing happens without Sun’s approval.

Now the Register reports that Oracle and the JCP have fallen out. According to this report, the JCP does not like Oracle’s suit against Google; and does not have confidence in Java FX or Java ME both of which were promoted at the recent OpenWorld/JavaOne conference (though Java FX is to change significantly). The JCP still wants true independence – as, amusingly, proposed by Oracle in 2007:

… that the JCP become an open independent vendor-neutral Standards Organization where all members participate on a level playing field with the following characteristics:

  • members fund development and management expenses
  • a legal entity with by-laws, governing body, membership, etc.
  • a new, simplified IPR Policy that permits the broadest number of implementations
  • stringent compatibility requirements
  • dedicated to promoting the Java programming model

Oracle seems now to have changed its mind, wanting to tighten rather than loosen control over Java. Oracle still needs to work through the JCP in order to progress the Java specification so it will need either to mend relationships or reform the JCP somehow in order to deliver what was promised at JavaOne.

What does this mean for Java and its future? Perhaps surprisingly little. Alex Handy at the sdtimes reports this comment from Rod Johnson, now at VMware, whose SpringSource business was built on building Java frameworks outside the JCP:

There’s been very little activity on the [JCP] executive committee. I think we just have to wait and see what Oracle comes up with for JavaOne," he said. "The rest of the world is moving along fairly quickly. It’s not like we need Oracle or the EC of the JCP to get things done.

Java is the world’s most popular programming language. Further, Oracle is a smart company and although it is doing a good job of alienating members of the Java community – not least inventor James Gosling, now a loose cannon on deck – its technical work on Java will likely be excellent. That said, we are heading into an increasingly fractured world in terms of development platforms, especially in mobile, and that looks unlikely to change.

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