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Petition to Unbundle Ask Bar from Java

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Oracle's beleaguered Java programming language is undergoing a new wave of negative publicity.

In recent weeks Java in the browser has suffered serious security flaws, as reported by InfoQ. Organizations and individuals have addressed the situation in a variety of ways. Many have disabled Java in the browser, and Apple, which has stopped distributing its own version of Java in the latest versions of OS X, has effectively blacklisted the current version of the Java Web plugin on OS X twice in January of this year alone.

The ongoing security battle has also focused attention on Oracle's bundling of the Ask toolbar with the Java installer. Sun started the practice in 2005 when it included the Google toolbar . Three years later the firm did a deal with Microsoft to include the MSN Toolbar, and then, in 2008 switched to bundling Yahoo. More recently its the Ask toolbar which has proved particularly controversial.

In response Dr. Saeid Nourian of The Concord Consortium has launched a petition that he hopes will motivate Oracle to discontinue their practice of bundling the Ask Toolbar by default in their Java installer. He is aiming to get 250,000 signatures.

InfoQ asked Dr. Nourian about his motivation, strategy, and responses.

Nourian: The real problem came to my attention when I noticed that my clients would often fall victim to AskToolbar. They would make the mistake of trusting Oracle's "recommendation". When the homepage and default search settings are hijacked by AskToolbar they would try to remedy the situation by uninstalling AskToolbar. Of course that does not restore your browser settings. When they become frustrated they don't just blame Java, they blame us, the product developers, for prompting that they should install Java. There is only one way out of this, to abandon Java altogether.

I started this petition in the hopes that I can save Java. It's a last resort before making a switch to another technology.

Our demand is that Java installer should do one and only one thing: Install Java. The installation wizard should have no steps, one click and done. This will make Java and Java updates (1) smaller in size, (2) faster to download, (3) faster to install, and most importantly (4) simple to install.

I started this petition less than two weeks ago and it already has over 11,000 signatures. I am particularly touched by the comments that the signatories left along with their signature. There are frustrated users who spent hours trying to uninstall AskToolbar. There are Java developers that are concerned about their clients. There are sons and grandsons who have to frequently cleanup their parents or grandparents' computers from AskToolbar because Java update frequently installs. There are IT administrators who have to cleanup this mess on hundreds of computers at a time. There are people who complain that Java installed AskToolbar in their computer even after they checked off the option to install it. There is no closing date for this petition. It will keep on growing until Oracle listens.

InfoQ asked Cay Horstmann, noted author, educator, and Java Champion, about his thoughts on the bundling:

Horstmann: Oracle needs to regain the trust of users who hear from all corners that Java is somehow questionable. Few understand what the issues are. You don't gain trust by bundling a product such as Ask, which does things that most users don't want, i.e. redirect searches from the user's choice of search engine.

Right now, lots of people are already afraid of Java, and this gives them one more reason not to install/upgrade it.

The revenue stream might be nontrivial. Oracle's Java website claims there are 930 million Java Runtime Environment downloads each year. If 1% of the users install the Ask toolbar, and pays $0.30 per install, that's $2.8M.

A comment on the petition website, purportedly from Joshua Bloch, who is responsible for substantial contributions to the Java JDK codebase said:

Installing malware by default along with patches that correct security holes is untenable. Oracle is violating the trust of the hundreds of millions of users who run Java on their machines. They are tarnishing the reputation of a once proud platform. This isn't even close to reasonable. It has to stop. 

A group of Java Champions and Java User Group Leaders have penned an open letter to Oracle, signed by a large number of members from those two groups. In it they say:

Many users around the world consider the inclusion of the Ask Toolbar as part of the Java installer as being an unwanted addition which compromises the commercial and community integrity of a vital technology and brand. We realise that this is likely a continuation of a previous policy by an earlier steward of Java and therefore would like to ask the current steward to consider changing this policy.

InfoQ contacted Oracle for a response but they have declined to comment.


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