The Silence from an Open Sun

I am intrigued by Sun’s response, or lack of, to Apache Software Foundation letter regarding the licensing of the JCK. For those that haven’t read the letter, it seems Sun is trying to impose license restrictions, via the JCK license, on Apache that would limit Harmony’s ‘field of use’. According to Apache, these restrictions are in violation of the JSPA agreement and would essentially require Harmony to be issued under a software license that would not be consider open or free. Not a great situation for Harmony.

There are two aspects that intrigued me:

1) How Sun responds to such a public letter in the blogshere, and

2) The impact this situation has on Sun’s strategy to open source Java.

The Response So Far

Sun has a well deserved reputation for being a company that makes effective use of blogs. Starting their CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, it seems everyone in Sun has a blog and a lot of them have some great content. For instance, when the founder of WordPress slammed Sun for their support of start-up companies, Jonathan responded quickly. Not many other large software companies have this high level commitment to blogging. I really do think Sun gets it and knows how to communicate via blogs.

Therefore, I am really surprised to see the lack of response from Sun. I know some people, like Matt, have called for patience but I can find only two posts from Sun employees: 1) from a PR person who to their credit got something out very quickly but the content is basically PR spin, and 2) a passionate, but probably regrettable response, from a Sun technical director, that essentially accuses Apache of extortion. Where is the comment from Jonathan or Simon Phipps, Sun’s goto open source guy, or how about anyone else from Sun?

How open is open?

Sun made the bold move of open sourcing Java and they should be congratulated for doing it. However, I think how they respond to Apache will set the tone for how open Sun plans on being with Java.

A number of people have called on Sun to do the right thing and grant a proper JCK license to Apache. However, if they don’t, I think this raises a number of questions about Sun’s open Java strategy:

  1. Why have the ‘field of use’ restrictions been add to this license, when other TCK’s have been licensed to Apache without these restrictions?
  2. Is there a plan to impose ‘field of use’ restrictions on all open source implementations of Java, including the ClassPath project?
  3. Will the Sun sponsored openJDK also be limited by these restrictions or will OpenJDK receive special consideration?
  4. What is the governance model that Sun plans to use for OpenJDK? Does Sun plan to have open governance for OpenJDK or will it continue to be Sun controlled?

I am sure the internal discussions within Sun are pretty intense on this subject and likely a reflection of their non-response. However, when they do respond, I think it will set a clear signal on how open Sun will actually be.

The marketing slogan for the upcoming JavaOne conference is ‘Open Possibilities’. I just hope that is isn’t really ‘Open Possibilities, according to Sun’s rules’.

17 thoughts on “The Silence from an Open Sun

  1. I’m not sure this is entirely fair. Whilst they may not have said anything about it at the moment, their initial response is that they are considering the next stage. It may take several weeks to get to a point where that can be the case; or it may be that they have some licensing obligations (e.g. they’ve assigned rights to some fields of use to others, or wanting to protect revenue streams, or …)

    It seems unlikely that they’ve not been doing any research over the past year since this issue was first raised, but it’s not like anyone would get past the EPL on IP for contributions just because someone blogged about it. For example, ProSyst have contributed their DS implementation (and others) and I’ve blogged about that … but it takes a while for the legal gears to churn.

    Yes, it’s something that needs to be brought up periodically; and I’m sure that at the end of the 30 days, there will be some more noise. But just because there’s no public response doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no action.


  2. Alex,

    IMHO, I think Apache deserve more than just, ‘we are considering it’. If Sun wants to be perceived as being open, they could easily communicate their concerns/reasoning. As you have said, this isn’t exactly a new issue that they need to research. I certainly don’t expect an immediate resolution but it just seems odd to have the silence.

    Althou, maybe I am just impatient.

  3. Pecunia non olet.
    It is quite clear that Sun wants to protect its revenue stream for mobile JVM’s. Keep in mind that the Classpath-exception doesn’t exist for embedded JVM’s so companies like Nokia, Motorola, Sony etc. have to pay for the JVM in case they want to have a „certified“ JVM. The mobile market is a real big one who doesn’t stop to grow especially in Asia.

    Sun’s economical situation is still very critical. They will probably post another loss for the current quarter and they will look for every possibility to get revenues.

  4. Ulrich, you seem to be confused about the gratis TCK scholarship program: it only applies to not-for-profits (and qualified individuals).

    There is no such thing as a gratis certification for companies, regardless of what license the things they distribute are under, afaik.

  5. Ian, as far as I understand it, Apache has the rights they need to ship a product, already via the GPL – their (and IBM’s) issue is they cant call it Java without permission from Sun. (Just as I dont have the rights to call my product Eclipse without dealing with you.) I dont think you’re characterizing the debate fairly, and I dont think you’re helping, either. I wish Apache would just ship Harmony, rather than complaining they’re not getting enough help from everyone.

  6. Dalibor, here is a citation from Apache’s Steve Loughran. Hope you like it.

    A promise and a roadmap from Sun to release the existing Java under open source changes the nature of Sun’s game. If and when they get a build process that mortals can use, Sun can release a version of Java that goes into Linux -which appears to have been the sole rationale for OpenJDK. If you look at the planned license for the JDK, they will make the embeddable version pure GPL, so telcos, TV vendors, blue-ray players, and whoever else wants a JVM, will need to pay Sun for a license. Clearly then, there is financial pressure to prevent a freely embeddable version, which is what Apache Harmony promises, and which these mysterious “field of use restrictions” apply.

  7. I enjoy Steve’s blog as much as any other blog from my friends on Planet Apache, but I’m afraid his argument misses an important point: Harmony has *nothing* to do with embedded Java. It’s a J2SE implementation, not a J2ME implementation. There is no TCK scholarship for J2ME, so the ASF could not certify Harmony as J2ME compatible gratis even if the ASF wanted such a thing. And it doesn’t want that, anyway, for all I know.

    J2SE and J2ME really are quite different things, and do not have an exact subset relationship, so even if certified as a J2SE implementation, the Harmony binaries could not be distributed with the J2ME certification marks, which is what the telcos, TV vendors, etc. actually want.

    Not to mention that in many cases embedded platforms are proprietary, vendor- and product-specific environments, with their own toolchains, so the ‘golden certified Harmony binary from’ game plan makes no sense for those situations, as the vendors would have to port it, rebuild it and then to obtain the TCK (for cash) and *recertify* those new builds themselves, as those obviously aren’t going to be the same binaries that ASF certified.

    Fwiw, I think that trying to frame the argument as something else is doing ASF a disservice, as conspiracy theories about Sun’s or ASF’s motivation tend to turn people off.

  8. Alice,

    You are correct the Harmony team could ship their technology without permission from Sun. In fact, they don’t need the GPL version, since Harmony is a clean room implementation and will be licensed under the Apache license.

    However, what you are suggesting is that the Harmony team should create a fork of Java. I don’t think anyone, especially Sun, wants this to happen. If Sun really wants to be viewed as being open, they need to come to terms with competing Java implementations that they don’t control. IMHO


  9. Hi Ian I’m back from FISL in Brazil and just saw your blog. This is a matter between Sun and Apache that is very complex and does not benefit from being debated in press soundbites or one-sided open letters – consequently I don’t intend to try. As for Tom Ball’s blog posting, it’s ugly and doesn’t represent an official Sun comment.

    If the situation gets addressed, it will be by the continuing quiet discussion between Sun and Apache that’s been going on for ages, and not by a public debate designed for Sun’s usual critics to pile on.

  10. Wouter,

    That response seems to be pretty old, cira 2004, and from a former JCP Chair. I believe it was a response to some other issues Apache has raised in regard to the JCP. It does not deal with the current Apache letter.

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