The Trouble with the JCP EC

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, December 10. 2010

Just a reminder: The below reflects my opinions and my point of view, personally, as myself. It is a shame that some parties have described the FOU TCK issue as a battle between Oracle and Apache. It is actually between Oracle and the non-aligned Java community, as represented by the ASF. So when people say that the ASF "loses Java showdown", it isn't the ASF which "lost" (although standing up for principles and the letter of law is never losing), but instead it's the Java community as well as the FOSS community as well. Recall that at the core of the issue is that Apache simply wanted Oracle to abide by the JSPA and allow access to the TCK without the resulting certified released being encumbered by any FOU restrictions. It is the restrictions on the release which makes it incompatible with not only the Apache License but any open source license. The acronym JCP stands for the Java Community Process, and it was supposed to be the way in which the entire Java ecosystem would be involved in the development and future of Java. The key word in there is "Community." It wasn't supposed to be a corporate controlled group, carving out areas of Java for their own revenue producing purposes, but, as we will see, that is exactly what is has become. With the ASF leaving, there is no longer any entity within the EC which is fully and completely beholden to what is good for the community at large. That is a serious claim to make, but I think I can back it up. First of all, let's look at the votes and, just as important, the comments with those votes. The breakdown is
  • Those that voted NO
  • Those that voted YES, but with comments expressing their disappointment with the FOU restrictions
  • Those that voted YES and provided no comments at all
Lets look at the 2nd group first (group #1 needs no explanation, I hope). But before we do that, just remember one thing. At an EC face-to-face meeting, Oracle made it perfectly clear that no matter what the outcome of the vote, they were going to move ahead with Java7 and Java8. So no matter what, no matter what people voted, Java7 and 8 would not be "held back". Ok now, so almost without fail, the vendors in group #2 derive a significant part of their revenue on Java. Their bottom line depends on it and, for the most part, they have shareholders to worry about. They have a fiduciary duty to make money. Now I have no doubt that Oracle used everything within their power to "convince" them to vote YES. As mentioned, since these companies depend on Java, and since the sole-source of Java is Oracle, Oracle was able to provide incentives to EC members to see things Oracle's way, in the form of significantly reduced license fees for Java, for example, promises of more control and direction within Java (which in and of itself clearly indicates that Java as a community-involved process is a sham, but I digress), and the like. At a point, these become simply too large to ignore and too significant to the bottom line to disregard. At the same time, these entities know that if they vote NO, that they will be portrayed, by all the marketing muscle that Oracle can bring to bear, as "stopping Java" or "holding Java back" or some such FUD, even though, as we saw above, Oracle was going ahead with Java no matter what. All you have to do is look at how Oracle has responded to the ASF leaving as clear indication. It's all about "moving Java forward" with the implication that if you don't agree with Oracle, you are "hurting" Java, whereas Oracle, of course, is doing all it can to protect it. Again, companies which derive revenue from Java cannot afford to be painted as "anti-Java", especially when a direct competitor can portray itself as the savior of Java. And so once again, there is no real option for them. As public companies, their hands are tied. (BTW: with all this in mind, how in the world the Sun acquisition got through the EU and US anti-trust laws is mind-boggling). They simply cannot afford to vote NO. And so the YES votes are disappointing, yes, but not unexpected. And despite any indications to the contrary, I do applaud those who took the only real avenue available to them and expressed their unhappiness with Oracle and the FOU restrictions in their comments. I personally feel that they wanted to vote NO, wish they could vote NO, but simply can't. Now regarding group #3 I have very little to say except that I am quite surprised and disappointed that one entity in particular didn't even comment on the FOU restriction. This entity is purportedly pro-Open Source and pro-community and even is directly involved in a large open-source but not open-community "seasonal" (ahem) codebase (the representative was the original coder), and yet they didn't even bother to express any support for Apache or the community at all. So whether their "we love open source" characterization is real or feigned (for pure commercial value) is, I guess, up for grabs. Maybe they had a good reason to be silent; I don't know. So the impact of the ASF (and Tim and Doug as well) leaving the EC is more than just some disgruntled people not "getting their way" and leaving. It is, in fact, verification that there is no real balance, no real community power within the JCP. Oracle holds all the cards and can gain the system to do whatever it wants, even ignoring contractual agreements. Other EC members can fight, but they will only be allowed what Oracle lets them do. And they will have to simply sit down and take it. The JCP is no longer about "community" in the sense of "the Java community". It no longer can serve as a process to drive Java towards what is best for all, because one single entity can overrule anything. If what "the community" wants to do aligns with Oracle's business, then Oracle will allow it to happen. If not, then it will be stopped dead in its tracks. Sure, maybe I could be wrong. Maybe Oracle will actually let the community drive Java, be a true, actual part of the process. Maybe one day Oracle will see the open source community as an entity to be nurtured and helped, rather than a resource to be plundered. Maybe one day all that will happen, and I'll have to eat crow. And when it does, I'll do so happily. Hell, I'll even have seconds. But I sincerely doubt if there will ever come a day when I'm picking black feathers out of my teeth...

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