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Apache JCK Request Hits 90 Days without Resolution

by Andy Roberts on Jul 30, 2007 |
More than three months have passed since Geir Magnusson Jr., VP of Apache Harmony, published an open letter to Sun Microsystems demanding that they should remove "unacceptable" restrictions in the Java Compatibility Kit (JCK) license. Sun initially offered a quick and brief  'let us think about it' response while also reminding developers that were working hard on opening their own Java code via OpenJDK.  At present 90 days have passed with no further response.

This development has not been a huge shock to the Apache Foundation - the two parties have been locked in behind-the-scenes negotiations for several months regarding the JCK to no avail. Apache feels that Sun is contravening the agreements which govern the Java Community Process (JCP).

Another milestone that has passed is Apache's 30 day demand for Sun to give relent to Apache's demands or explain their position. The letter however omitted to mention what the 'or else' repercussions would be. Some members of the open source community where anxious that the tone of the letter was a little too aggressive. Dalibor Topic wrote on the Classpath mailing list:
I could have spent Sun's PR team's time trashing Sun in public for having a proprietary TCK license, written open letters, and what not. I've made fun of Sun's 'Read Only' license for the TCK, back when it was released, for example. That didn't have any influence on that particular license, as far as I can tell, despite my best attempts at stand up comedy.

Trying to 'shame' a multi-billion dollar corporation into making one's wishes true doesn't really work, as far as I've seen it, and usually just pisses the very people off one's trying to work with constructively. Been there, done that, learned from it during the Harmony founding excursion.
Many were happy for Apache to stand up for their beliefs, yet now fear that by not reacting to their own self-imposed deadline they are looking somewhat impotent. There is a lot of activity within the Harmony mailing lists trying to elaborate what their new position should be in light of this crisis. The Harmony community is voting on proposals to withdraw from JSRs which do not conform to an "open" process, such as those which require signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). While this seems reasonable for an organisation built on openness, NDAs have been a necessary evil in order to ensure the Apache organisation remained relevant within the JCP process. It's a bitter pill to swallow, after all, the goal of Harmony is to create a certified Java implementation, and this can only happen if they accept the requirements stipulated by the specification-lead.

There was hope that OpenJDK would force Sun to level the playing field with regard to open access to the JCK. Andrew C Oliver has been keeping a close eye the events as they have been unfolding and offers a good summary. He offers an curious perspective on Sun's motivation for their license restrictions:
An interesting note is that Sun's own Open JDK is not subject to these "Field of Use" restrictions although it is licensed under the GPLv2 (plus special exceptions to propagating the GPL to linked components) and a special Binary License. This points more to a financial motive than legal.

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Voting against JSR's with Sun as the spec lead by Niall P

Not quite no consequence - Apache voted No to JSR 316 and looks to be heading the same way for JSR 317 and 318.

Re: Voting against JSR's with Sun as the spec lead by Ben Loud

Indeed, and I think that behaviour is discraceful. The JSR's they're voting NO on have nothing to do with the Java SE JSR and they dont have the TCK licensing issue, so Apache are now voting no against every Sun-led JSR purely as a protest, even when there's nothing wrong with the JSR they're voting on. Geir Magnusson argues that the spec lead (Sun) is in violation of the JSPA. Well, he may have an argument for the specific JSR that he has an issue with, but in the cases of JSRs 316, 317 and 318 they are clearly not.

Should a new JSR be submitted, such as Java SE 7, that contains the TCK licensing problem, then of course it would be reasonable to vote no on that. But using no votes on unrelated JSRs this way is immoral and an abuse of the JCP process.

That being said, I think Apache has a valid complaint. I just dont agree with them using protest votes.

Re: Voting against JSR's with Sun as the spec lead by Niall P

Its disappointing its come to this, but the telling thing IMO is Sun's lack of response. If Sun had a defensible argument you can bet they would have rolled it out PDQ. The silence for over 90 days is tantamount to an admission that they're in the wrong - so IMO the disgraceful label should be applied to Sun.

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