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Oracle endorses faster Java changes

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EclipseCon 2010 Oracle is committed to whipping the Java Community Process into shape, but it looks like a limited workout's on the agenda.

Steven Harris, the senior vice president of Oracle's massive application server product development, told EclipseCon Wednesday that the Java Community Process (JCP) - the body officially responsible for making changes to Java - needs to be "tweaked" so that Java could become more responsive to changing needs. Oracle is a long-standing member of Eclipse.

The JCP under former steward and majority owner Sun Microsystems became a by-word for slow-moving bureaucracy and vendor-friendly specs that turned developers off Java and pushed innovation elsewhere.

It helped birth lightweight and flexible programming frameworks like Spring and saw the rise of dynamic languages like Ruby.

"The JCP and Java overall needs to move faster be more agile and more flexible to the extent the JCP has been the primary vehicle to standardize Java and move it forward," Harris told EclipseCon attendees in Santa Clara, California, during a Q&A panel with other Oracle executives.

"It needs to move forward more quickly and the community and structure we have around that has to be tweaked and pushed to enabled that to happen. We recognize that's something we need to do and we are committed to do."

In response to questions from The Reg and from one EclipseCon attendee, Harris would not say what changes we should expect and when they'd come.

Harris called the changes an internal matter for the members of the JCP that would not be debated publicly. But he noted that change would come incrementally. Good to see that the slow-moving, closed-shop attitude that was the hallmark of Sun's control over the JCP has made it over to Oracle.

Whatever Oracle does, it won't be easy. Oracle has inherited a massive knot of problems from Sun.

First, there's the JCP's spiritual crisis that stems from the heavy handed years of control by Sun. The question of whether the JCP and its supposed guarantee of "standards" on Java actually matters anymore is important when you have major fragmentation on desktop and mobile and de-facto standardization taking place based on the sheer size of those doing it.

Google's Android is built on Java, but not Sun's Java - its Dalvik virtual machine makes use of the Apache Software Foundation's version of Java Standard Edition, called Project Harmony, which has not been officially certified. Harmony, on the desktop, is not standardized because Sun would not open-source the test compatibility kits that would have let the project be validated as compatible with the JCP's official standard.

Next, there's the question of how Oracle and the JCP bring the Apache and Google renegades back into the JCP fold. Success would renew the JCP's status while failure will perpetuate the idea that the JCP is irrelevant and keep innovation in Java coming from elsewhere.

How Oracle will resolve this particular issue is not obvious, when it was not a hundred per cent clear why Sun, when it had open-sourced the rest of Java, would not also release the code for the TCKs.

At the time, Sun cited the existence of contributors' intellectual property in the TCKs that it was not allowed to open source, yet IP existed in the Java specs and Sun was able to parlay that away.

The popular contention is Sun held onto the TCKs to retain its position of influence - and the JCP. If that's the case, would Oracle be willing to sacrifice this pivotal access point - no matter how short-term or illusory it is from a control and innovation point of view?

And if Oracle does tackle this, would it even matter given the presence and backing of ASF and growing size and influence of Google in pushing Android and setting a de facto standard - one that doesn't seem to be deterring developers or consumers?

The big buy-in on the JCP for years was that the official certification stamp gave developers and consumers the confidence to use Java. With de facto standards, that argument - and the industry's collective responsibly it implies - is pushed aside as one company becomes big enough for everyone simply to buy into it.

If the problem is knotty, so to is the decidedly Sun-esque thinking that's found its way into Oracle.

Asked by ASF president Justin Erenkrantz during the panel how Oracle planned to "embrace" the changes that had happened outside the JCP - the Android fork and Harmony - Oracle proved evasive. In its evasiveness, however, Oracle sounded like it's taking the old Sun line: that standards are important and that the JCP will remain the go-to standards-setting body.

It was no coincidence that former Sun client software vice president turned vice president of Oracle's client software development group Jeet Kaul was the one who who told Erenkrantz that "standards" are important and that innovation can come outside of the standards setting body.

"Why are standards important? They are very critical because as a consumer you want to take one implementation and use it with another implementation. When a programmer is building something they know what they are building to. It's easy and it's a level playing field."

Harris' response was succinct: "I concur." ®

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