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Java Community Process shakes Soviet commissar tag

Open standards perestroika

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Qcon He once likened the Java Community Process (JCP) to a commissar in Soviet Russia, but newly elected JCP executive committee member Rod Johnson is now employing an if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em strategy.

"I think there are positive changes happening in the JCP," Johnson told attendees at last week’s Qcon San Francisco developer conference. "To go back to my notorious analogy, when perestroika and glasnost come along, you’ve got to stand up and be counted. I think there is work to do, and I want to see whether I and SpringSource can further those changes."

Johnson is best-known for conceiving and initiating the development of the open source Spring framework. He’s also the CEO of SpringSource, the commercial distributor of that framework. He serves on the JCP executive committee on behalf of his company.

Johnson participated in a conference panel discussion entitled, "Open Standards Development: Opportunity or Constraint?" Patrick Curran, Chair of the JCP, MCed a sprawling panel of experts assembled to talk about open standards and open source development.

The panel included Stephan Janssen, founder of the Belgian Java User Group (BeJUG); Michael Van Riper, leader of the Silicon Valley Web JUG and the Silicon Valley Google Technology User Group; Michael Ashley, development director for Cultural Heritage Imaging; Cay Horstmann, professor of computer science at San Jose State University; Bill Venners, president of Artima; Lynne Rosenthal, manager of the Information Systems Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Information Technology Laboratory; and Loretta Guarino Reid, a member of the Accessibility Engineering team at Google.

The hour-long discussion was dominated by concerns about the openness of the JCP and barriers to entry-level participation. Janssen complained that it was difficult for user groups to participate in the JCP because of the stiff fee. Van Riper proposed the creation of a JUG USA umbrella organization to spread the expense of joining. He also complained that there is no real community feeling in the JCP if you’re not involved with a JSR. Ashley pointed to a lack of public openness in the JCP. Horstmann echoed that concern and emphasized the importance of transparency in standardization processes.

When the discussion turned to standards, Venners argued that standardizing a language adds value only when there are multiple implementations. In most cases, a language conformance kit is sufficient. Rosenthal argued that what key to making a standards organizations work is basic team work principles. Reid talked about her organization’s work to make documents accessible to disabled computer users.

JCP Chair Curran was the default focus of much of panel’s criticism. He reminded the group that all of the JCP’s minutes are public, announced that the organization is currently building soon-to-be-launched groupware tools that will promote greater openness, and that, although JCP membership is not free, there is a discount for non-profitable organizations.

Johnson credited Curran with accelerating what had been a gradual process of opening up the JCP. (Curran has gone on record in support of a more open process). "I’m very encouraged by the fact that there’s a lot more interest [at the JCP] in open source and ways of working in open source that might impact standards," he said. 'And it does seem that there’s a focus on lowering barriers to participation in the JCP. Both of those things are very important."

Johnson also suggested a metaphor for participation in the JCP: "Java citizenship." Members of the Java community should rights and privileges, he said, and the responsibility to exercise them.

"I think that it’s too easy to blame Sun [Microsystems] for the fact that the community doesn’t participate more fully," he said. "It baffles me, frankly, that not just individuals, but companies, with immense investments in Java don’t participate. Openness doesn’t really work if there’s no participation. If the process becomes more democratic, people are going to have to stand up and cast their votes."

In a short, post-panel interview, Johnson told The Register how he plans to work within the JCP system. "I’m going to be contributing at a technical level based on my experience and judgment," he said. "But at the process level, I’m really going to be pushing to make things as open as possible."

What sorts of things will he be pushing for?

"Ideally, I’d like to see that the starting point of every part of the discussion occurs in the open," he said. "And I would also like to find a way to get the community more fully involved in the process. And I think it worth trying to advocate this agenda from within. Will it work? Ask me in a couple of months?" ®

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