The Apache Software Foundation is usually a nice, quiet organization that supports the development of quite a lot of open source software. Unlike the Free Software Foundation, it doesn't usually get political or controversial. But the ASF is calling Oracle out over its handling of the Java Community Process (JCP).
The politics of Java are complex, but in a nutshell the problem is this: Apache has been trying to get access to the Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) to demonstrate that Apache Harmony is compatible with Java to get the grant of "necessary IP" — patents in this case — that need be granted to allow a worry free implementation of Java. Note the whole lawsuit against Google? Yeah, they haven't got that.
Neither does Apache, for its open source implementation of Java SE called Harmony. But it wants one, and it wants to follow the rules get the stamp of approval. Sun even issued a letter of intent to provide this under terms that would allow a FOSS implementation (e.g., Harmony). But it didn't happen under Sun, and it's still not happening under Oracle. See the Apache FAQ about the situation under Sun, which explains the specifics.
The ASF is getting ready to exercise the only real options they have left — applying public pressure and leaving the JCP if Oracle doesn't play straight.
Through the JSPA, the agreement under which both Oracle and the ASF participate in the JCP, the ASF has been entitled to a license for the test kit for Java SE (the "TCK") that will allow the ASF to test and distribute a release of the Apache Harmony project under the Apache License. Oracle is violating their contractual obligation as set forth under the rules of the JCP by only offering a TCK license that imposes additional terms and conditions that are not compatible with open source or Free software licenses. The ASF believes that any specification lead that doesn't follow the JCP rules should not be able to participate as a member in good standing, and we have exercised our votes on JSRs -- our only real power on the JCP -- accordingly. We have voted against Sun starting and continuing JSRs, and have made it clear that we would vote against the JSR for Java SE 7 for these reasons.
In light of Oracle Corporation failing to uphold their responsibilities as a Specification Lead under the JSPA and breaking their signed covenants with the Apache Software Foundation that are the conditions under which we agreed to participate in the JCP, we call upon the Executive Committee of the JCP to continue its clear, strong and public support for Java as an open specification ecosystem that is a level playing field for participants in order to ensure that anyone -- any individual or commercial, academic or non-profit entity -- is able to implement and distribute Java specifications under terms of their choice. Specifically, we encourage the other members of the JCP EC to continue with their support of our position regarding Oracle, and vote accordingly on the upcoming Java SE 7 vote.
If you think that all of this is just the open source community being tetchy, realize that these are public commitments that were made by Sun and affirmed by Oracle. Yet they haven't followed through. That's just bad business no matter how you slice it. If the company doesn't intend to be FOSS-friendly, that's their call — but being dishonest about in public is another thing. Further, this highlights how Oracle is going to deal with other players in the Java community. If it's against their interest, then don't count on Oracle to play fair. Sun courted the FOSS community for years, but had failed to live up to its obligations. Oracle is following suit.
The ASF is right to bow out if Oracle doesn't deliver — and any other company or community project in the Java sandbox ought to be doing the same.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.