IBM to harmonise its open source Java efforts with Oracle

IBM’s Bob Sutor, VP of Open Systems and Linux, says in a blog post that the company will now shift its open source Java effort from the unofficial Apache Harmony, to the official Open JDK. The announcement is also covered in an Oracle press release.

Sutor’s post is curious in some ways. He focuses on a long-standing issue, the refusal of Sun and then Oracle to make its testing suite available (TCK – Testing Compatibility Kit) under a suitable license so that users of Harmony could have confidence that its implementation is correct:

We think this is the pragmatic choice. It became clear to us that first Sun and then Oracle were never planning to make the important test and certification tests for Java, the Java SE TCK, available to Apache. We disagreed with this choice, but it was not ours to make. So rather than continue to drive Harmony as an unofficial and uncertified Java effort, we decided to shift direction and put our efforts into OpenJDK. Our involvement will not be casual as we plan to hold leadership positions and, with the other members of the community, fully expect to have a strong say in how the project is managed and in which technical direction it goes.

We also expect to see some long needed reforms in the JCP, the Java Community Process, to make it more democratic, transparent, and open. IBM and, indeed Oracle, have been lobbying for such transformations for years and we’re pleased to see them happening now. It’s time. Actually, it’s past time.

The interesting question is what has really changed, since the situation with the Java TCK is not new. It reads as if some intense negotiation has been going on behind the scenes, of which this is only part of the outcome. It is not yet clear, for example, exactly what changes are happening to the JCP, which controls the Java specification subject to Oracle’s approval, although Sutor refers to them almost as if they are a done deal.

IBM’s announcement gives a boost to the official Java platform at a time when it is under a cloud, following a JavaOne conference which was run as a sideline to the Oracle OpenWorld event last month, and rumblings of dissatisfaction from the JCP and from Java inventor James Gosling.

Another important player is Google, whose Android operating system uses the Java language but an incompatible virtual machine called Dalvik. IBM’s move will strengthen Oracle’s position as steward of the official Java platform.

This is a blow to Harmony. The current list of contributors  has 31 names, of which 9 are from IBM, 3 from Intel, 1 from Joost, and the others independent. It is a shame to see an important open source project so much at the mercy of corporate politics.

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