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Oracle: no license for Android's Harmony friend

But a lifelong Java deal for IBM?

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Oracle will never grant a license to Project Harmony, the open source Java implementation.

Oracle told a closed meeting of Java's leaders from major companies and organizations that such a move would damage the future of Java, according to a source close to Java's governing body. The meeting took place in Bonn, Germany, between October 5 and 6 and was hosted by T-Mobile.

Larry Ellison's database bruiser did not give a specific reason for the decision. Instead, his people cited unidentified "additional information" that had come to light since Oracle took over Sun Microsystems, Java's former chief steward, according to our source, who is close to the Java Community Process.

We can offer one reason: on August 12, Oracle announced that it is suing Google over alleged patent violations of Java in Android, which uses a subset of Project Harmony.

Oracle wants mobile devices to use Java Mobile Edition (Java ME) and not Harmony, which is based on Java Standard Edition (Java SE).

Three years ago, Oracle – like every other JCP member except Sun – supported efforts to have Harmony tested and ultimately certified as compliant with the official Java standard.

Lack of Harmony

Meanwhile, fellow JCP member IBM has told The Reg that Oracle invited IBM to participate in the OpenJDK project. On October 11, IBM announced its stunning decision to back Oracle's OpenJDK and withdraw from the Apache Software Foundation's (ASF's) Harmony, a project it dominates with nine members.

"Oracle approached Sun on working on the OpenJDK," an IBM spokeswoman said. She would not comment on rumors circulating that Oracle has granted IBM a permanent license to use Java in return for backing OpenJDK and dumping Harmony.

IBM's current Java license runs until 2015, having been renewed with Sun under a 10-year deal announced in 2005.

The spokeswoman had no actual knowledge of negotiations, telling us it was IBM's policy not to discuss terms and conditions of its Java license.

IBM's decision to back OpenJDK means the systems giant is no longer supporting ASF's push for certification of Harmony as an independent version of Java.

Like its fellow JCP members, IBM has for years argued that Sun - and now Oracle - should let the Java Test Compatibly Kits (TCKs) be open-sourced. ASF has argued it cannot certify Harmony because the TCKs contain proprietary code. TCKs are the only part of Java, excluding Java FX, not available under an open-source license.

In backing OpenJDK, IBM also promised to reform the JCP - the body, on paper at least, responsible for all changes to Java.

Blogging about IBM's backing for OpenJDK on October 11, Bob Sutor, vice president of open systems and Linux, said: "We also expect to see some long needed reforms in the JCP... to make it more democratic, transparent, and open."

Sutor declined to speak to The Reg to clarify what reforms are coming.

IBM's spokeswoman said she knew of no concrete proposals from Oracle to reform the JCP. Instead, IBM has signed on because Oracle reached out after years of icy relations with Sun on Java and OpenJDK.

"We are happy to accept the olive branch they have extended. They'll work with us on the reform of the JCP," IBM told us.

As of the October meeting in Bonn, Oracle was still not making any substantial offers to reform the JCP. There, IBM's JCP representative repeated his employer's call for "significant" changes, saying IBM would vote against lesser proposals.

JCP reforms watered down

A source close to the JCP told us that at the meeting Oracle unveiled still more weak reforms, including mandating that all Java Specification Request (JSR) mailing lists be made public. JSRs say what features and changes will go into new versions of Java. In the past, it's been down to the JSR leader's discretion to make mailing lists public.

This is a world away from the vote Oracle led in 2007 against Sun calling for radical reform of the JCP, making it an open and vendor-neutral body. A major component of that change was that Sun would lose its power of veto over Java - a power Oracle now holds through its acquisition of Sun.

IBM's support for Oracle on the OpenJDK means it is highly unlikely that the JCP will be spun out as a vendor-neutral, independent operation per Oracle's vote in 2007. Between them, IBM and Oracle probably own about 90 per cent of the intellectual property and patent filings on the various components inside Java.

A source said: "A breakaway with IBM stood a chance, without IBM - I don't think so."

What ever happens next to the JCP, Oracle has denied it's breaking up the group by taking away its responsibly for Java SE and handing it to the OpenJDK project.

Announcing IBM's backing for OpenJDK last week, Oracle said the OpenJDK community would be the primary location for open source Java SE development while the JCP will continue to be the primary standards body for Java specification work.

An Oracle spokesperson said OpenJDK will continue as the vehicle to deliver the reference implementation and for collaborative work in open source for Java SE. Oracle would not comment on other aspects of this story.

It's also likely that Oracle's roadmap for Java 7 and 8 laid out at OpenWorld last month will now pass the JCP's approval process now IBM's on board OpenJDK.

At OpenWorld, Thomas Kurian, Oracle's server technologies chief, laid out features and timetable for Java 7 and 8 in 2011 and 2012, but he conveniently neglected to tell the public that Oracle stood completely isolated on the JCP and had very little chance of getting this roadmap approved.

A JCP vote before OpenWorld saw members repeat calls for the JCP to be spun out in accordance with the 2007 vote that Oracle had sponsored.

A source tells us that Oracle said that one way or another, "we are going to do this roadmap." ®

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