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Apache declares war on Oracle over Java

The Apache Software Foundation threatens to ditch Java if Oracle doesn't relent on use restrictions

Charging that Oracle has willfully disregarded the licensing terms for its own Java technology, the Apache Software Foundation has called upon other members of the Java Community Process (JCP) to vote against the next proposed version of the language, should Oracle continue to impose restrictions on open-source Java use.

The nonprofit organization has also indicated that it could end its involvement in the JCP if the licensing restrictions stay in place.

"Why would we want to be in an organization where the rules of law don't matter? Our being on the [JCP Executive Committee] would be a sham. It would show that the community doesn't matter, that we'd basically cave into Oracle pushing stuff through, whether or not it would be in the best interest of the community," said Jim Jagielski, president and cofounder of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), in an interview with the IDG News Service.

This is not a new battle for the ASF, and for the JCP as a whole. It has been such a contentious issue, in fact, that it has long delayed the voting process of the next version of the Java standard, Java 7. But the battle lines have recently been redrawn and the discussion over the JCP itself has reached a fevered pitch.

In October, the ASF was ratified for another three-year term on the JCP Executive Committee (EC), by an overwhelming 95 percent margin. Now, the ASF is hoping to use this influence to get Oracle to relinquish the Field-of-Use (FOU) restrictions that the Java trademark's former owner, Sun Microsystems, placed on the technology. Oracle purchased Sun in January.

It was a victory in an otherwise dire month for the ASF. At that time, IBM announced that it was shifting developer support from Apache's own open-source version of the Java Standard Edition, called Project Harmony, to another open-source project, the OpenJDK.

IBM was one of the staunchest supporters of Apache's position on the FOU, and its move to the OpenJDK at least suggests that the company would support Oracle in an upcoming vote on Java 7, Jagielski speculated.

If so, Big Blue would be joining a number of other organizations willing to let Oracle have its way, for the good of the language as a whole, including Red Hat and the Eclipse Foundation.

The battle revolves around whether restrictions should be placed on how open-source versions of Java are used.

Under the JCP's Java Specification Participation Agreement (JSPA), the ASF can use the Java Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) to test compliance of Apache Harmony to the Java standard. Jagielski said that after the agreement was struck, however, Sun imposed the additional restriction, called a Field of Use (FOU) restriction, that prohibits the software's use on mobile platforms (which presumably would cut into the licensing sales of Sun's own Java mobile edition offering). Ironically, Oracle had protested Sun's additional restriction, but since purchasing Sun it has reversed its stance.

The idea of a FOU restriction is an "anathema" to open-source use, Jagielski said. It also brings into question the organization's work on Project Harmony.

"All software we develop and code is under the Apache License, which is an open-source software license," said Jagielski. To continue to manage Project Harmony with the restrictions in place, "We would be developing code we couldn't release under the Apache license," he said.

As a result of this, "The biggest issue for us right now is if Harmony has a future," Jagielski said. In turn, without Project Harmony, Apache's involvement in the JCP would appear meaningless at best, and misleading at worst.

Oracle clearly sees value in the commercial licensing of Java. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has called Java the biggest asset in the purchase of Sun.

In August, Oracle sued Google for its use of Java in Android. It was thought that Google engineers used some of Project Harmony's code for the project, but the ASF has subsequently debunked this notion.

While the ASF doesn't want to hold back the development of Java, voting for Java 7 with the Oracle restrictions in place would put the ASF in an untenable position, Jagielski said.

"We wouldn't have joined an entity that would have stopped us from developing software that couldn't be released under the Apache license. The restriction of distribution is just not compatible. That is the core of the problem for Apache," he said.

The decision of whether to stick with the JCP will come down to how much support the ASF gets.

"Should Java 7 get voted down, then it means there is still some fight in that, that the JCP process is still a community process, in which case we'll stick with it and keep the good fighting going," he said.

Oracle declined to comment on the matter.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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