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JCP Panel: The Community Demands More Openness and Easier Participation

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QCon San Francisco 2008, hosted a panel on Open Standards Development where Patrick Curran, Chair of the JCP and distinguished members of the community, shared their practical experiences both on open standards and open source development. Almost from the beginning it became evident that there were two major issues that would dominate the discussion: Openness and Ease of entry level participation to the JCP.

The discussion started with Stephan Janssen, founder of the Belgian Java User Group (BeJUG), JavaPolis and Parleys. Stephan was asked why the BeJUG is one of the two Java User Groups that participate in the JCP and he explained that it was because of their involvement with the BGGA Closures proposal. He also mentioned that it is hard for a JUG to participate because of the fee involved. Patrick Curran quickly stepped in to mention that although the JCP involvement is not free, there is a discount for non-profitable organizations.

Michael Van Riper who leads the Silicon Valley Web JUG and the Silicon Valley Google Technology User Group, continued the talk and made clear that from his experience there is no real community feeling in the JCP, at least outside of specific JSRs. Again he argued that the fee is an issue and spoke about the proposition for a JUG USA as an umbrella organization.

The following speaker was Michael Ashley the Development Director for Cultural Heritage Imaging who emphasized on the lack of openness to the public. This was again emphasized from Cay Horstmann from San Jose State University. He also stressed the importance of transparency for standardization processes and explained how open standards are valuable in education.

Following up, Bill Venners from Artima, pondered on the issue of when does it become necessary to standardize a language and came to the conclusion that it only adds value when there are multiple implementations. In most other cases it is better to just have a language conformance kit.

Lynne Rosenthal, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, contemplated on what makes standard’s organizations works well and concluded that it is all about basic team work. Also it is very important to have someone that knows the bureaucratic procedures well and can manage red tape. Finally she explained how strong leaders are a key factor for the success of a JSR.

Loretta Guarino Reid, a member of the Accessibility Engineering team at Google, was asked to what degree has her team worked with people with disabilities. She replied that they have had people with disabilities work with them and they are trying to make all their documents accessible. She also mentioned that they would also like to work specifically with people with hearing disabilities, something that they haven’t been doing until now.

The last speaker to be addressed was Rod Johnson, father of the Spring framework, who has been very vocal in the past about the way the JCP operates, and who was recently elected to serve on the JCP executive committee. He was asked for the reason that made him participate in a process that he has been so critical about and he mentioned that he has been seeing positive signs of change. He also felt strong about delivering more transparency to the process and making the community get involved – the “java citizenship”. Patrick Curran defended the JCP process by arguing that all minutes become public by default and mentioned that they are building groupware tools that will be launched in the next version of the site, that will promote openness.  Rod Johnson was asked about what he meant by “java citizen” and he mentioned that as members of the Java community, people have rights and privileges and people need to participate in order to exercise them.

Someone from the audience mentioned that it is not easy for common programmers to participate, but Patrick Curran argued that actually the process is really open to everybody and there is no real barrier. Rod Johnson added that open source groups don’t need to explain every little thing, but Cay Horstmann mentioned that it is quite hard for a common person to participate directly in the technical side of things. Stephan Janssen said that he is missing transparency in the whole process.

At this point attendees from the audience argued that specs are hard to read and suggested for an open source code repository, public issue tracker and public mailing lists. Rod Johnson commented that a spec doc cannot tell you if the technology will do the job you want it to.

After a couple of people from the audience mentioned that spec leads need to get out and promote their community, Floyd Marinescu Chief Editor of InfoQ asked if the JCP board has thought of hosting public surveys for a more “democratic approach” of taking decisions. Patrick Curran replied that they haven’t thought of that but he expressed the opinion that with the new collaboration tools that are developed for the next version the the JCP site, people will have more ways to participate.

There were more than a few people from the audience that made negative comments about the choice of Java Modularity over OSGi and how that causes confusion. Patrick Curran defended the choice of Java Modularity by saying that although he is not an expert in the filed there are several technical reasons that lead to this decision.

A spec lead that was it the audience described the difficulties he’s been having in contacting other spec leads and criticized the fact that there is no real way for people between JSRs to interact in an easy and natural way. Patrick Curran agreed that the process is “missing something” and Rod Johnson found the chance to repeat his position that greater openness will help with that too. Also  Cay Horstmann confirmed the problem. When the audience insisted in the fact that there is no good way of communication between spec leads, Rod Johnson mentioned that there is also a problem of well defined scope between the JSRs which makes things harder.

After that there were several people from audience that expressed negative feelings about how complicated the paper work is and Patrick Curran had to explained that the legal agreement gives guarantees to the JCP that there will not be legal problems in the future. The discussion circled around this same subject all the way to the end, with the audience asking for easier participation to the JCP and less paper work and the Chair trying to justify the current status. Both InfoWorld and JavaWorld have been covering this aspect of the panel.

With the Community demanding more Openness and Easier Participation from the JCP, it will be interesting to see how the process will evolve.

You can find more information on the JCP right here on InfoQ.

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