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How to rescue Java from the men in suits

Gives us liberty, not legalese

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The real problem is individuals are not stepping up and using the existing structures. "It's fashionable to complain to Sun," Johnson said. "Fundamentally, this is not Sun's fault. They've done everything they can to have users participate. Users need to get more motivated."

Why are more individuals not coming forward? Some issues are practical, such as the demands on time and money, others are legal.

Stephen Colebourne, a technical architect at SITA ATS, wants to see individual representation guaranteed. Individuals could receive legal support during their work, the kind of support that comes with corporate membership. Java Specification Request lead and a leader of SouJava Michael Nascimento Santos said half the executive committee's seats could be made open to individuals on this basis.

Patrick Curran: photo Uberpulse

JCP's Patrick Curran: "serious discussions"

There's also a major challenge of perception. Antonio Goncalves, founder of the new Paris JUG, who began leading a JSR last August, complained it's not obvious to an outsider they can even join. The perception is the JCP is a place for big companies, like IBM or Red Hat.

Once in, it's not clear what role the individual can, or should, play. "I joined as an individual without really knowing what was going to happen to me - I didn't know what to expect as an expert member," Goncalves said.

There are are also communication issues. Goncalves noted that members work via email with documents sent using PDF format, rather than wiki, making comments on specs extremely difficult and slow. Also, different projects are not talking, with Goncalves' emails for information to other expert members going unanswered. According to recently elected JCP chairman Partrick Curran, a wiki is planned in the next three weeks to speed things up.

A major hindrance to individuals is the Java Specification Participation Agreement, which Topic and Goncalves think gags developers from speaking out - or blogging - about JCP proceedings and meetings. This enables big vendors to sit around and safely expose their intellectual property (IP) to each other without the risk of outside attention. JSPA features an ambiguous clause on confidentiality of information disclosed between JCP members during their meetings.

"You read JSPA and you don't understand. You don't know what's going to happen to you, your career, what you can blog about - they tell you: what happens in the JCP stays in the JCP," Goncalves said. He was half-joking.

"We don't like to have to sign a 20-page long legal agreement because we don't want to end up in the Bastille - we'd rather storm the Bastille," Topic said. He believes the emphasis on legalese is a sign of a bygone, corporate age, whereas open source is all about "trust".

Another bone of contention for Topic is open sourcing of the all-important test compatibility kits - TCKs - that allow self-testing and certification of Java implementations. Each JSR has a TCK created by the spec lead and that contains intellectual property under terms often not favorable to open source.

But TCKs are expensive and difficult to build, so IP owners are loath to give up their rights. The TCK is often licensed, meaning there's a vested commercial interest in keeping them closed. Santos said it would be better for the JCP as a whole, if nobody charged for TCKs.

A time to lobby

The whole issue of open TCK and Java compatibility kits has proved an ongoing source of conflict between Sun and the community. Curran said there'd been "serious discussions" on the executive-committee, but no answers. (You can catch a full, post-panel interview with Curran here from Uberpulse.)

The real challenge individuals face in changing anything is they must appeal to the best instincts of the corporate interests the JCP favors.

According to Topic, repeated and sustained lobbying of these interests will create the desired change - in the same way that lobbing lead to Sun's open sourcing of Java. "The JCP needs to transform to lead the Java world to a better place. We can do this the soft way or we can do this the hard way," Topic said. "We didn't club people to open [Java] up," he said.®

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