The Three Key Questions for the Future of Java

e have all heard the speculations about why Oracle is purchasing Sun:

  • Oracle is trying to get on the same level as IBM. They want to be considered a complete vendor, offering applications, platforms, and databases. A one-stop shop, if you will.
  • Oracle has maxed out the applications and database markets. To remain a major player in the space, they have to expand and get into the hardware business.
  • The purchase is a long-term defensive move in response to the rumors of Microsoft purchasing SAP.

While the reasons for the purchase may be important to many people, what is most important to me is what happens to the Java technologies that Sun has created, built up, and serviced over the past 15 years. I have often written that “Java is COBOL,” because almost every business today has some sort of Java somewhere doing something. Rumors are flying around the application development industry, but it is way too early in the process to know just where the dust will settle and how the story will end. That does not mean that we cannot use history as a guide to predict the future.

I have often written that “Java is COBOL,” because almost every business today has some sort of Java somewhere doing something.

Looking at the Oracle acquisition from a purely Java perspective, the three key questions are:

  • Will the Java Community Process (JCP) continue to exist?
  • Will the dispute between the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) and Sun be resolved?
  • Could Oracle seize Java IP by withholding TCKs for the JDK?

Will the JCP Continue to Exist?

Oracle is an Executive Member of the JCP and they have submitted over 80 Java Specification Requests (JSRs). Even with this long-standing commitment to participation, Oracle has stated?in a chorus with other vendors and participants–that the JCP process needs to become more open, transparent, and vendor-neutral. Specifically, on December 12, 2007, Oracle proposed the following:

Resolution 1 (proposed by Oracle, seconded by BEA)

“It is the sense of the Executive Committee 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

Furthermore, the EC shall put a plan in place to make such transition as soon as practical with minimal disruption to the Java Community.”

So we can expect Oracle to continue the JCP, but it may become a completely different JCP. If Oracle is successful in implementing its desired changes, the results could be very interesting and wide reaching. It will be especially interesting to see how Oracle would implement the changes. That will be one of the first indications of how Oracle will work with Java.

Will the Dispute Between Apache and Sun Be Resolved?

The main issues surrounding the Apache/Sun dispute are varied, but here is a short summary of events that led up to it:

  1. The Apache Harmony Project was intended to create an ASF-licensed modular virtual machine (VM) and a JDK based on Java SE version 5.0.
  2. Sun open sourced the JDK with the OpenJDK project.
  3. To be a certified JDK, Harmony had to pass Sun’s Technology Compatibility Kits (TCKs).
  4. Sun stated that Harmony was based on the old JDK 5.0 standard and not on the latest JDK (6.0, at the time), so the certification process stalled and the Harmony Project was left in limbo.

To this day, the OpenJDK governance board has not resolved the dispute. How Oracle handles this situation is the second barometer of how they will manage the Java process.

Could Oracle Seize Java IP by Withholding TCKs for the JDK?

The many legal issues involved in JDK certification could be a large can of worms for Java. For example, unless you pass the TCK for the OpenJDK, you do not get rights to the Java Intellectual Property (IP)?i.e., you don’t have a certified JDK.

There is really no way to have an official OpenJDK 7.

Since we don’t have a specification for Java SE 7 and Sun does not appear to be pushing for one, there is really no way to have an official OpenJDK 7. Oracle could take the same approach and not release a specification or the TCKs, and thus keep the IP internal.

Reading the Tea Leaves

As you can see, the three questions above are intertwined to such a degree that each answer could itself have different levels and layers, such as:

  • The JCP will most likely continue to exist, but it may assume a different role in dictating the direction of the technology.
  • That difference in governance could provide a simple fix for the ASF issues, leaving them as a fading memory.
  • Oracle may release a new JDK specification and the TCKs along with it, fully realizing the promise of an open JDK.

How these factors play out will give the Java developer community a clear understanding of how Oracle intends to run Java.

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