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IBM joining OpenJDK – repeat after me “pragmatic”, “pragmatic”, “pragmatic” October 12, 2010

Posted by Sacha in English, IT.
Tags: , , , , ,

Things have started to move quickly in Java-land. Yesterday, IBM announced they would partner with ORCL on Java and participate in the OpenJDK project. They also said that in doing so they would shift their Apache Harmony resources towards OpenJDK.

Note: I can insure you that the “pragmatic” word is going to be used and abused in the next few weeks when talking about Java…


From a market standpoint, ORCL played hard-balls and won.

One of the only possibilities for a Java fork to be successful was for IBM to co-lead it. With this announcement, the “pragmatic” view wins. I imagine IBM was able to negotiate and obtain from ORCL a proprietary license on the OpenJDK codebase. I also hope they were able to negotiate substantial *and specific* changes in how the JCP will work in the future.

For IBM, no drama, no legal fees, no long lawsuit, just business as usual. For ORCL, a first victory in how they intend to treat the Java community. Oh, and for the other players (VMW, RHT, SAP, HP, etc.) it probably means they will have to shut-up and follow IBM “leadership” (with one possible caveat explained below).


This is really a blast against the Java community. The JSPA dictates that companies leading a JSR have to provide a license to anybody requesting it. That is the very foundation of the JCP: to create a market place where all competitors are on an equal-playing-field. Yet, in that case, SUN refused to grant such a license, providing an interpretation of the JSPA that would make laugh a 5 years old kid. Everybody else thought this interpretation was vastly nuts. Fast-forward a few months and this becomes ORCL’s interpretation.

This probably also means the Apache Harmony project just died (Yes, resources allocation and life and death of a project are indeed topics that should be discussed on a DEV mailing-list… don’t hide behind your finger.)

How can the Java community trust a leader which doesn’t stand by its own constitution?

Anything good?

So, “pragmatically”, this news announces the end of a long-standing deadlock in the Java community: we can all hope the JCP will be rejuvenated on top of the JSPA and Harmony dead bodies, that new SE JSRs will be initiated, that ORCL will start investing more resources in new JSRs, etc. That’s the best case scenario.

Yet, I have a hard time seeing how a new “JCP” can work if any JSR lead can, at any point in time, refuse to grant a license on that JSR to a competitor… What if ORCL was to refuse to grant RHT of VMW a Java EE license?

What’s next?

The only free electron that could change the situation is GOOG – and that electron is pretty excited given their lawsuit with ORCL.

Until now, nobody really leveraged that JSPA issue aggressively. Yet, GOOG could decide to sue ORCL for refusing to give the ASF an appropriate Java SE license (or help the ASF sue ORCL). I see this as the only remaining open item that could change the game. And if this doesn’t happen, ORCL will have won by KO.

Oh and obviously, it will be interesting to see what the JCP EC members will vote on the new JSRs for Java SE 7 and 8 (be ready to count the number of times the “pragmatic” word will be used in the comments section). My bet is that unless GOOG sues ORCL, the JCP EC will just “pragmatically” accept those new JSRs and send some flowers to the Apache Harmony project.


Unless GOOG initiates a lawsuit against ORCL over the JSPA, I think this is game-over. ORCL essentially tells the Java ecosystem that the good old JCP is dead, that they are willing to rejuvenate it but not at the expense of loosing control on the only FOSS JVM out there, that is the price to pay. While that might seem fair, the problem is that this is a unilateral decision done at the expense of a legal agreement signed by many.

Next time you shake Larry’s hand and he tells you “we have a deal”, don’t get too excited…



1. Markus - October 12, 2010

Great summary! I am also excited to see how GOOG goes into this. It’s hard to believe, but what we are seeing here is the ORCL way. It’s most obvious, that they have the power to do what SUN tried. I am still not shure, if I like it at a whole. What I like is the fact, that Java seems back moving. That is, what we all were waiting for!

2. Sacha - October 12, 2010

I agree, having things move forward is definitively a great plus.

3. Martijn Verburg - October 12, 2010

Nice Summary! I certainly am waiting on Google’s next move (although the court date in November will be the starting point I guess). Clever work by Oracle though you have to admit.

Hopefully some of that good Harmony work (and the brains behind it) can shift to the openJDK – it would be devastating for some of the core committers otherwise.

Martijn (@java7developer – twitter)

Sacha - October 12, 2010

I agree, in ORCL’s style, it is a masterful move, very well orchestrated.

4. Mark Little - October 12, 2010
5. Alex Blewitt - October 12, 2010

I agree – that’s why I asked the question on the Harmony list in the first place. It’s difficult to see how it means anything other than the death of Harmony and Larry dancing on its grave.

6. Sacha - October 12, 2010

Yeah, I saw that one, Bob did a great job at spinning it… He forgot to say why they even joined Harmony in the first place, how the field-of-use restriction is a non-sense to a standardization body, how those issues suddenly got solved (they did, right?), etc.

7. ☞ Good For Java? « Wild Webmink - October 12, 2010

[…] Repeat after me “pragmatic”, “pragmatic”, “pragmatic” Sacha Labourey pretty much nails the issues here. The Java community needed clarity over whether it was an open, level playing field or whether they were just sharecropping someone else’s property. Clarity is clarity, whether you like it or not. […]

8. OpenJDK += Oracle, IBM - October 12, 2010

[…] Sacha Labourey’s “pragmatic” take on the blow this deals to community around Java. […]

9. Werner Keil - October 21, 2010

Sacha, good to hear from you again. After we met in Switzerland while you were still in the EC.

> how those issues suddenly got solved (they did, >right?), etc.
Do you mean for IBM/OpenJDK or in general ?;-)

The SE/EE EC race is exciting enough already, having at least Bob Lee, his former employer Google and Eclipse Foundation head-racing for just 2 open seats from all I remember. At least Doug Lea was ratified, so were Apache and Red Hat which would mean, all 3 ratified candidates would hava guaranteed seats (that indeed would justify Rod’s “Communist” metaphor he once used ?!;-)

How come you didn’t consider being a candidate, too?

Sacha - October 21, 2010

Hello Werner,

As you know, I started a new company – http://www.cloudbees.com – and I after having been on the EC2 I know how much travelling is required for very little benefit. But I thought about it.



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