Tag Archives: sun

WS-I closes its doors–the end of WS-* web services?

The Web Services Interoperability Organization has announced [pdf] the “completion” of its work:

After nearly a decade of work and industry cooperation, the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I; http://www.ws-i.org) has successfully concluded its charter to document best practices for Web services interoperability across multiple platforms, operating systems and programming languages.

In the whacky world of software though, completion is not a good thing when it means, as it seems to here, an end to active development. The WS-I is closing its doors and handing maintenance of the WS interoperability profiles to OASIS:

Stewardship over WS-I’s assets, operations and mission will transition to OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), a group of technology vendors and customers that drive development and adoption of open standards.

Simon Phipps blogs about the passing of WS-I and concludes:

Fine work, and many lessons learned, but sadly irrelevant to most of us. Goodbye, WS-I. I know and respect many of your participants, but I won’t mourn your passing.

Phipps worked for Sun when the WS-* activity was at its height and WS-I was set up, and describes its formation thus:

Formed in the name of "preventing lock-in" mainly as a competitive action by IBM and Microsoft in the midst of unseemly political knife-play with Sun, they went on to create massively complex layered specifications for conducting transactions across the Internet. Sadly, that was the last thing the Internet really needed.

However, Phipps links to this post by Mike Champion at Microsoft which represents a more nuanced view:

It might be tempting to believe that the lessons of the WS-I experience apply only to the Web Services standards stack, and not the REST and Cloud technologies that have gained so much mindshare in the last few years. Please think again: First, the WS-* standards have not in any sense gone away, they’ve been built deep into the infrastructure of many enterprise middleware products from both commercial vendors and open source projects. Likewise, the challenges of WS-I had much more to do with the intrinsic complexity of the problems it addressed than with the WS-* technologies that addressed them. William Vambenepe made this point succinctly in his blog recently.

It is also important to distinguish between the work of the WS-I, which was about creating profiles and testing tools for web service standards, and the work of other groups such as the W3C and OASIS which specify the standards themselves. While work on the WS-* specifications seems much reduced, there is still work going on. See for example the W3C’s Web Services Resource Access Working Group.

I partly disagree with Phipps about the work of the WS-I being “sadly irrelevant to most of us”. It depends who he means by “most of us”. Granted, all this stuff is meaningless to the world at large; but there are a significant number of developers who use SOAP and WS-* at least to some extent, and interoperability is key to the usefulness of those standards.

The Salesforce.com API is mainly SOAP based, for example, and although there is a REST API in preview it is not yet supported for production use. I have been told that a large proportion of the transactions on Salesforce.com are made programmatically through the API, so here is one place at least where SOAP is heavily used.

WS-* web services are also built into Microsoft’s Visual Studio and .NET Framework, and are widely used in my experience. Visual Studio does a good job of wrapping them so that developers do not have to edit WSDL or SOAP requests and responses by hand. I’d also suggest that web services in .NET are more robust than DCOM (Distributed COM) ever was, and work successfully over the internet as well as on a local network, so the technology is not a failure.

That said, I am sure it is true that only a small subset of the WS-* specifications are widely used, which implies a large amount of wasted effort.

Is SOAP and WS-* dying, and REST the future? The evidence points that way to me, but I would be interested in other opinions.

The Java crisis and what it means for developers

What is happening with the Java language and runtime? Since Java passed into the hands of Oracle, following its acquisition of Sun, there has been a succession of bad news. To recap:

  • The JavaOne conference in September 2010 was held in the shadow of Oracle OpenWorld making it a less significant event than in previous years.
  • Oracle is suing Google, claiming that Java as used in the Android SDK breaches its copyright.
  • IBM has abandoned the Apache open source Harmony project and is committing to the Oracle-supported Open JDK. Although IBM’s Sutor claims that this move will “help unify open source Java efforts”, it seems to have been done without consultation with Apache and is as much divisive as unifying.
  • Apple is deprecating Java and ceasing to develop a Mac-specific JVM. This should be seen in context. Apple is averse to runtimes of any kind – note its war against Adobe Flash – and seems to look forward to a day when all or most applications delivered to Apple devices come via the Apple-curated and taxed app store. In mitigation, Apple is cooperating with the OpenJDK and OpenJDK for Mac OS X has been announced.
  • Apache has written a strongly-worded blog post claiming that Oracle is “violating their contractual obligation as set forth under the rules of the JCP”, where JCP is the Java Community Process, a multi-vendor group responsible for the Java specification but in which Oracle/Sun has special powers of veto. Apache’s complaint is that Oracle stymies the progress of Harmony by refusing to supply the test kit for Java (TCK) under a free software license. Without the test kit, Harmony’s Java conformance cannot be officially verified.
  • The JCP has been unhappy with Oracle’s handling of Java for some time. Many members disagree with the Google litigation and feel that Oracle has not communicated well with the JCP. JCP member Doug Lea stood down, claiming that “the JCP is no longer a credible specification and standards body”. Another member, Stephen Colebourne, has a series of blog posts in which he discusses the great war of Java and what he calls the “unravelling of the JCP”, and recently  expressed his view that Oracle was trying to manipulate the recent JCP elections.

To set this bad news in context, Java was not really in a good way even before the acquisition. While Sun was more friendly towards open source and collaboration, the JCP has long been perceived as too slow to evolve Java, and unrepresentative of the wider Java community. Further, Java’s pre-eminence as a pervasive cross-platform runtime has been reduced. As a browser plug-in it has fallen behind Adobe Flash, the JavaFX initiative failed to win wide developer support, and on mobile it has also lost ground. Java’s advance as a language has been too slow to keep up with Microsoft’s C#.

There are a couple of ways to look at this.

One is to argue that bad news followed by more bad news means Java will become a kind of COBOL, widely used forever but not at the cutting edge of anything.

The other is to argue that since Java was already falling behind, radical change to the way it is managed may actually improve matters.

Mike Milinkovich at the Eclipse Foundation takes a pragmatic view in a recent post. He concedes that Oracle has no idea how to communicate with the Java community, and that the JCP is not vendor-neutral, but says that Java can nevertheless flourish:

I believe that many people are confusing the JCP’s vendor neutrality with its effectiveness as a specifications organization. The JCP has never and will never be a vendor-neutral organization (a la Apache and Eclipse), and anyone who thought it so was fooling themselves. But it has been effective, and I believe that it will be effective again.

It seems to me Java will be managed differently after it emerges from its crisis, and that on the scale between “open” and “proprietary” it will have moved towards proprietary but not in a way that destroys the basic Java proposition of a free development kit and runtime. It is also possible, even likely, that Java language and technology will advance more rapidly than before.

For developers wondering what will happen to Java at a technical level, the best guide currently is still the JDK Roadmap, published in September. Some of its key points:

  • The open source Open JDK is the basis for the Oracle JDK.
  • The Oracle JDK and Java Runtime Environment (JRE) will continue to be available as free downloads, with no changes to the existing licensing models.
  • New features proposed for JDK 7 include better support for dynamic languages and concurrent programming. JDK 8 will get Lambda expression.

While I cannot predict the outcome of Oracle vs Google or even Apache vs Oracle, my guess is that there will be a settlement and that Android’s momentum will not be disrupted.

That said, there is little evidence that Oracle has the vision that Sun once had, to make Java truly pervasive and a defence against lock-in to proprietary operating systems. Microsoft seems to have lost that vision for .NET and Silverlight as well – though the Mono folk have it. Adobe still has it for Flash, though like Oracle it seems if anything to be retreating from open source.

There is therefore some sense in which the problems facing Java (and Silverlight) are good for .NET, for Mono and for Adobe. Nevertheless, 2010 has been a bad year for write once – run anywhere.

Update: Oracle has posted a statement saying:

The recently released statement by the ASF Board with regard to their participation in the JCP calling for EC members to vote against SE7 is a call for continued delay and stagnation of the past several years. We would encourage Apache to reconsider their position and work together with Oracle and the community at large to collectively move Java forward.  Oracle provides TCK licenses under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms consistent with its obligations under the JSPA.   Oracle believes that with EC approval to initiate the SE7 and SE8 JSRs, the Java community can get on with the important work of driving forward Java SE and other standards in open, transparent, consensus-driven expert groups.   This is the priority.   Now is the time for positive action.  Now is the time to move Java forward.

to which Apache replies succinctly:

The ball is in your court. Honor the agreement.

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.

Open season for patent litigation makes case for reform

It seems to be open season for software patent litigation. Oracle is suing Google over its use of Java in Android. Paul Allen’s Interval Licensing is suing AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Yahoo and others – the Wall Street Journal has an illustrated discussion of the patents involved here. Let’s not forget that Apple is suing HTC and that Nokia is suing Apple (and being counter-sued).

What’s next? I was reminded of this post by former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. He confirms the supposition that large tech companies refrain from litigation – or at least, litigate less than they might, refrain is too strong a word right now – because they recognize that while they may have valid claims against others, they also most likely infringe on patents held by others.

The gist of Schwartz’s post is that Microsoft approached Sun with the claim that OpenOffice, owned by Sun, infringes on patents held by Microsoft thanks to its work on MIcrosoft Office:

Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.”

Sun’s retort was in relation to Java and .NET:

“We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?”

following which everything went quiet. The value of .NET to Microsoft is greater than the value of OpenOffice to Sun or Oracle.

Oracle, however, seems more willing to litigate than Sun; and I doubt it cares much about OpenOffice. Might we see this issue reappear?

That said, Microsoft also has a large bank of patents; and who knows, some of them might be brought to bear against Java in the event of legislative war.

The risk though is that if everyone litigates, the industry descends into a kind of nuclear winter which paralyses everyone. Companies like Interval Licensing, which seemingly exist solely to profit from patents, have no incentive to hold back.

Can any good come of this? Well, increasing software patent chaos might bring some benefit, if it forces countries like the USA to legislate in order to fix the broken patent system.

Protecting intellectual property is good; but against that you have to weigh the potential damage to competition and innovation from these energy-sapping lawsuits.

We need patent reform now.

Oracle still foisting Google Toolbar on Java users

Oracle may be suing Google over its use of Java in Android; but the company is still happy to take the search giant’s cash in exchange for foisting the Google Toolbar on users who carelessly click Next when updating their Java installation on Windows. If they do, the Toolbar is installed by default.


This is poor practice for several reasons. It is annoying and disrespectful to the user, particularly when the same dialog has been passed many times before, bad for performance, bad for security.

Sun at least had the excuse that it needed whatever income it could get.

I know certain other companies do this as well with their free runtimes – Adobe is one – and I like it just as little. However, as far as I can recall Adobe only adds foistware on a new install, not with semi-automatic updates.

Apple not Android is killing client-side Java – so why is Oracle suing Google?

Oracle is suing Google over Java in Android; the Register has a link to the complaint itself which lists seven patents which Oracle claims Google has infringed. There is also a further clause which says Google has infringed copyright in the:

code, specifications, documentation and other materials) that is copyrightable subject matter

and that it is not possible for a device manufacturer to create an Android device without infringing Oracle’s copyrights. Oracle is demanding stern penalties including destruction of all infringing copies – I presume this might mean destruction of all Android devices, though as we all know lawyers routinely demand more than they expect to win, as a negotiating position.

But isn’t Java open source? It is; but licensing is not simple, and “open source” does not mean “non-copyright”. You can read the Java open source licensing statements here. I am not a licensing expert; but one of the key issues with Google’s use of Java in Android is that it is not quite Java. Oracle’s complaint says:

Google’s Android competes with Oracle America’s Java as an operating system software platform for cellular telephones and other mobile devices. The Android operating system software “stack” consists of Java applications running on a Java-based object-oriented application framework, and core libraries running on a “Dalvik” virtual machine (VM) that features just-in-time (JIT) compilation.

Note that Oracle says “Java-based”. Binaries compiled for Android will not run on other JVM implementations. I am no expert on open source licensing; but if Google is using Java in ways that fall outside what is covered by the open source license, then that license does not apply.

Despite the above, I have no idea whether Oracle’s case has legal merit. It is interesting though that Oracle is choosing to pursue Google; and I have some sympathy given that Java’s unique feature has always been interoperability and cross-platform, which Android seems to break to some extent.

James Gosling’s post on the subject is relevant:

When Google came to us with their thoughts on cellphones, one of their core principles was making the platform free to handset providers. They had very weak notions of interoperability, which, given our history, we strongly objected to. Android has pretty much played out the way that we feared: there is enough fragmentation among Android handsets to significantly restrict the freedom of software developers.

though he adds:

Don’t interpret any of my comments as support for Oracle’s suit. There are no guiltless parties with white hats in this little drama. This skirmish isn’t much about patents or principles or programming languages. The suit is far more about ego, money and power.

The official approach to Java on devices is Java ME; and Java ME guys like Hinkmond Wong hate Android accordingly:

Heck, forget taking the top 10,000 apps, take the top Android 10 apps and try running all of them on every single Android device out there. Have you learned nothing at all from Java ME technology, Android? Even in our current state in Java ME, we are nowhere as fragmented as the last 5 Android releases in 12 months (1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1 and recently 2.2).

Fair enough; but it is also obvious that Android has revived interest in client-side Java in a way that Sun failed to do despite years of trying. The enemy of client-side Java is not Android, but rather Apple: there’s no sign of Java on iPhone or iPad. Apple’s efforts have killed the notion of Java everywhere, given the importance of Apple’s mobile platform. Java needs Android, which makes this lawsuit a surprising one.

But what does Oracle want? Just the money? Or to force Google into a more interoperable implementation, for the benefit of the wider Java platform? Or to disrupt Android as a favour to Apple?

Anyone’s guess at the moment. I wonder if Google wishes it had acquired Sun when it had the chance?

Note: along with the links above, I like the posts on this subject from Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady and Mono guy Miguel de Icaza.

Oracle breaks, then mends Eclipse with new Java build

Somewhere in the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) is a company field, identifying the source of the JVM. Following its acquisition of Sun, Oracle reasonably enough changed the field in version 1.6.0_21 to reference Oracle rather than Sun.

Unfortunately some applications use the field to vary some command-line arguments according to which JVM is in use. “If Sun JVM do this, if IBM JVM do that.” Eclipse was one of these, so Oracle’s update caused “crashing and freezing issues” for Windows users. There is more information here.

When the problem was discovered, Oracle issued an update that reverts the change. Hence Ian Skerrett at Eclipse has posted Oracle Demostrates Great Community Support and Fixes Eclipse.

The issue demonstrates that almost any software change can have unintended consequences, especially if the software is an application runtime.

Should Oracle have checked for this before release? Possibly; though it cannot check every build against every application on every platform. Still, everyone has done the right thing here.

Will the JVM now say Sun for ever? I would think for some time to come, bearing in mind that companies may standardise on specific Eclipse builds and stay on them for an extended period.