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Apache reignites Sun open source dispute

Opens fire with open letter

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The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has publicly slammed Sun Microsystems for dragging its feet over licensing it claims is unfair and discriminatory to open source, five years after the pair resolved similar differences.

The ASF has published a strongly worded open letter blaming Sun for hindering its open source Java Standard Edition (Java SE) project, Harmony, by maintaining IP restrictions in the Java SE 5.0 Test Compatibility Kit (TCK).

The TCK is needed to certify Harmony as an official JCP-compatible implementation. Invariably, TCKs have, in the past, contained licensed IP that makes them incompatible with certain open source licenses and deployments.

ASF Java Community Process (JCP) lead Geir Magnusson claimed ASF has sought modification of the JSE TCK license since August 2005, adding Harmony has been delayed since May 2005 because the current TCK conditions are "totally unacceptable." Magnusson has given Sun 30 days to develop a compliant license.

Magnusson said the licensing limitations are contrary to the basic principles of open source, and potentially damaged both the JCP and the "long-standing positive relationship" between Sun, the ASF and community.

That relationship, of course, dates back to 2002 when Sun pledged to use licenses for Java specifications and TCKs that are compatible with open source, and revised its JCP legal agreement and Java Specification Participation Agreement (JSPA) as a result. That agreement, announced at JavaOne, diffused mounting tension between ASF and Sun, who'd owned licenses that prohibited use and testing of Java with open source. The 2002 settlement provided coverage for six named projects, here, but not - it seems - Harmony. The JCP was also updated so Java Specification Requests (JSRs) could be submitted from the open source community.

Magnusson's letter skims over exact details of the IP in question, but indicates a belief that Sun's position is contrary to parts of the 2002 settlement. Namely, Java specification leads cannot impose contractual conditions limiting or restricting use, and leads must make all IP available under a Royalty Free license.

Sun has so far kept mostly mum, but responded briefly by saying this had been a private discussion with ASF and that it's considering a more detailed response. ®

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