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What is Apache Harmony for?

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JavaOne The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has been put on the back foot over its Project Harmony initiative, following Sun Microsystems' decision to open-source most of its Java 2 Standard Edition (SE) Java Development Kit (JDK).

At JavaOne today, Grier Magnusson, chairman of the Apache Harmony Project Management Committee, justified Harmony in the name of diversity, saying that it gives developers options on an ever-changing platform.

Licensing is the biggest difference between Harmony and Sun's JDK, which will be shepherded by the OpenJDK community, according to Magnusson. ASF's license allows open source developers to use Harmony "in different ways", he said.

Magnusson was speaking at a debate on free and open source software, where one audience member asked him to explain the point of continuing with Harmony, following this week's release of a "fully buildable" version of Sun's JDK. Harmony is ASF's open source implementation of Java SE 5, which consists of a Java JDK - under Apache License v2 - and Virtual Machine and class library.

Apache's man supported the idea of multiple projects, saying: "It's good no matter where the work goes."

That sparked disagreement with fellow panelist Tom Tromey, lead developer on the GCJ project and a Red Hat employee, who said good technology already existed in the case of OpenJDK versus Harmony.

"My experience of GCJ and Classpath is the opposite is true. Each time we merged, things got better. We grew our developer pool and fixed bugs. I'm not convinced more is better. That may be true in some scenarios, but this a situation where there's a reasonably complete and well defined specification, and an enormous body of test code. In that situation, one is better."

Tromey said he would be happy to see GCJ close in light of OpenJDK. "The value proposition of GCJ isn't high enough to compete with all the values OpenJDK provides."

ASF's issue with OpenJDK appears similar to its problems over licensing of the Java SE Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) by Sun. Magnusson last month penned an open letter calling on Sun change the TCK's licensing terms, which prevents open source developers' use of the kit, he claimed. Problematically, ASF needs the TCK to prove Harmony's compatibility with Sun's official Java standard.

Magnusson didn't detail the exact nature of the problem during his letter, but the take-away from today's panel is that it boils down to use of Classpath, one of the few remaining elements of the JDK still encumbered by intellectual property. Classpath is exempted from the OpenJDK's GLP 2 license, with plans afoot to re-implement the "encumbered" code during the next year.

"Because Sun is maintained under a copyright [license] on the whole code base, Sun has the option to re-license it for their commercial licenses. But it's important to recognize there's a need in the ecosystem for people to take the JDK and license it as they wish," Magnusson said.

At a later JavaOne session, Mark Reinhold, Sun chief engineer for Java SE, said OpenJDK hoped to make the TCK available later this year.®

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