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Sun and Apache: the Java scars that endure

Neutrality gets you so far

ApacheCon 09 Apache Software Foundation (ASF) pioneers have toasted 10 years of independence and successful code development at their annual conference in California.

Speakers who spun-up the project in its early days celebrated building a community that has stayed (mostly) friendly and dedicated to the ideal of building open-source code. Also it’s a group that’s remained beyond the control of tech vendors.

To mark the anniversary, ASF announced the Subversion open-source version-control project has joined ASF, to become a top-level project.

Not that things have been this harmonious - or pain free.

Among the scars aired Wednesday: Early work on XML that was dogged by politics as Java, middleware, and server rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems butted heads.

Ted Leung, previously the ASF’s vice president of XML and employed by IBM 10 years back but now a Sun principal engineer, said: “We had two corporations included - IBM and Sun and there was quite a bit of politicking going backwards and forth.”

Leung said he spent a year and a half after leaving IBM to try bring IBM and Sun together in the group.

IBM is now an enthusiastic ASF member as it has come to realize the benefits to its business of Linux and open source. Sun’s history with ASF is still an open wound.

The problem is the Harmony Project, Apache’s implementation of Java Standard Edition (Java SE) that’s been enthusiastically backed by IBM.

Sun’s refused to release Java Test Compatibility Kits (TCKs) under a license ASF considers friendly. The TCKs would let ASF certify Project Harmony as compliant with Sun's official specification. Without the TCK, the ASF cannot prove to customers Harmony conforms.

Speaking to The Reg immediately after ApacheCon panel Wednesday, co-founder and vice president of the Apache HTTP Server Project Roy Fielding said Sun and its potential new owner Oracle have both refused to discuss the subject of TCK licensing.

Both are under a complete and self-impose lock down, refusing to say anything that might be remotely construed as a forward looking statement on Oracle’s plans for Sun.

Sun’s silence is the fag end to a painful history with the ASF.

After years of simmering anger on the open sourcing of Java, Sun finally let the code go in 2006 and proceeded to cover itself in glory. The company didn’t release the TCKs, however, and a year after the ASF lambasted Sun publicly in an open letter for holding back Harmony and for damaging the credibility of its Java Community Process (JCP).

The ASF this year was one of just two JCP members that voted against the latest edition of the Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) specification. The move was a protest over the still-unresolved TCK issue.

Flattering his own organization Wednesday, Apache co-founder and chairman Jim Jagielski took a swipe at the JCP, which Sun dominates.

“I think we are this neutral base...we are not doing it for an ulterior motive, to advance a specific technology or agenda or company - we are letting the community pull us along,” Jagielski said. “We are not representing anything other than what’s going on in the community, and [we are] not representing a company or superset of the company.”

According to Leung, meanwhile, it’s the ASF’s inability to be bought that’s guaranteed it’s reputation as a genuinely independent organization – unlike the JCP.

In the past Sun’s tried to spend money to join ASF only to be told its seats are not for sale. Apache only accepts members based on merit - the code they contribute to projects - so companies can’t buy membership or board seats

Of late, ASF has started taking sponsorship money from Microsoft leading to periodic claims that “somebody” now “owns” the ASF.

According to Leung, the fact 70 ASF projects exist proves people believe the group is genuinely neutral. “One of the reasons we’ve been successful is we have a place where people with differences of interest can come together and work,” Leung said. ®

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