Oracle may be righteous vs. SAP, but open sourcers call it the oppressor

OpenJDK supporters claim wide support in opposition to "violations" of rules by Oracle.

An academic-sounding spat between commercial and open-source factions in the Java development community seems to mark a new breach between the priorities of software vendors who support and promote the effort and volunteers who complain they're being pushed aside and all the rules of open development are being violated.

Members of the Apache Software Foundation posted a blog entry yesterday calling on members of the Java community to vote down a proposed new version of the Java developer's kit as a way to thwart malfeasance by Oracle. As owner of Java, Oracle holds the position of Specification Lead in the JCP and ultimate decision-making power over anything but the more basic open-source portions of the language.

"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," the post read.

Organizations, not individuals, are elected to the JCP Executive Committee. The ACP recently won renewal of its 10-year place on the committee by winning support from 95 percent of the members voting.

It hasn't won much ground with Oracle lately.

In January, soon after the acquisition, CEO Larry Ellison called reports that Sun planned to lay off half of Sun's employees "highly irresponsible."

Oracle announced in June it was taking a charge of $825 million to pay off the acquisition, including $650 million for severance payments, primarily to former Sun workers. Sun laid off 5,000 to 6,000 workers in 2008, and another 3,000 in 2009 -- 10 percent of its workforce -- waiting for the acquisition to be completed.

In July Oracle effectively killed the OpenSolaris version of Sun's OS, though it continued to support the open-source OpenOffice, MySql and VirtualBox.

However, 33 contributors to development of OpenOffice quit the project and joined the competing open-source LibreOffice group because they objected to Oracle's overly commercial management efforts.

Last month IBM, which had been supporting the Project Harmony version of the OpenJDK open-source version of Java that the ASF develops, switched sides to support Oracle after realizing it wouldn't get access to all the test kits and development help it needed to work on its own projects.

IBM's defection was seen as a major blow to the ASF, though it claims to have been redeemed by winning reappointment to its seat on the Executive Committee of the JCP with 95 percent of the vote. that vote, ASF members claim is a mandate from the community to clean up and open-source the Java work Oracle is trying to corrupt.

The ASF's main gripe comes down to its refusal to accept a version of the compatibility kit Sun (and then Oracle) offered it to work on the Harmony Project -- the next version of the open-source version of core Java functions, the OpenJDK.

The version Sun offered included "field of use" restrictions that limit where software developed with the kit can run and requiring license fees for platforms under restriction.

Field of use restrictions are the basis for Oracle's suit against Google, which developed its own Java virtual machine for its Android OS, though Oracle charges the VM is a copy of Oracle-owned code.

Opposition to that move is much more fragmented than the ASF's complaints, which go back to disagreements with Sun in 2007.

The details are abstruse and the process is bureaucratic, but the overall trend is pretty clear: given the reins of some of the highest-profile open-source projects in the industry, Oracle seems to be riding them hard into commercially restricted zones.

Even if you prefer commercial code to open-source, because there is a definite throat to choke if something goes wrong, Oracle's bullying of the open-source community is just greedy and wrong. It doesn't have to kowtow to sometimes-extravagant claims and demands by open-sourcers, but it does have to abide by the agreements it absorbed along with Sun -- to keep Java open source and support in good faith the efforts of the community to develop it free from commercial exploitation.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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