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Oracle and IBM carve up open-source Java leadership

Finally, Java without the 'Sun' bit

IBM and Oracle have divvied up the leadership of OpenJDK – the leading open-source Java project – finally giving IBM the sort of Java control it spent ten years fighting Sun Microsystems for.

The new bylaws for the OpenJDK community outline a governing board that consists of a chairman, vice chairman, OpenJDK lead, and two members at large. Oracle has given IBM the power to appoint the vice chairman, while Oracle will appoint the chairman and the OpenJDK lead.

The only elected members of the OpenJDK board are the members at large, who will be chosen during a vote each April and will serve for a term of one year.

The rules were drafted by Mark Reinhold, the chief architect of Oracle's Java platform group; Adam Messinger, vice president of development in Oracle's Fusion middleware group; IBMers John Duimovich and Jason Gartner; Eclipse executive director Mike Milinkovich; and independent Java expert Doug Lea.

Milinkovich has never participated in the OpenJDK. There was no indication of input from some of Java's other biggest contributors: Google, Red Hat, and Canonical.

It should come as little surprise that the initial members of the governing board are Messinger (chair), Gartner (vice chair), and Reinhold (OpenJDK lead). The independents are Milinkovich and Lea, who recently quit the other Java community, the Java Community Process (JCP), over Oracle's behavior.

Reinhold blogged that he plans to revise the draft before March 3 in response to comments and offer a final draft for community ratification at an unspecified date.

Earlier, he had promised that every OpenJDK member - even Oracle - would follow the proposed rules. Now we can see why it shouldn't be much of a problem for Oracle, which has resisted following the rules of the JCP by refusing to grant Apache a license for its Project Harmony implementation of Java. Oracle has also resisted JCP reforms that it once supported.

The IBM- and Oracle-dominated board will be able to change the OpenJDK's bylaws and processes with agreement from two-thirds of the members. They also have the power to resolve procedural disputes made by an individual. You got that Apache?

But Oracle is keeping full control over technical and release schedules of OpenJDK. According to Oracle's draft rules, the board is not an executive body. Instead, that authority rests with the OpenJDK lead – the board member, er, appointed by Oracle.

The rules sit IBM in the Java co-pilot seat, right next to Oracle. They also answer the question of why IBM abruptly abandoned Project Harmony, the OpenJDK alternative from the Apache Software Foundation, after five years.

IBM joined Harmony in 2005 out of frustration with Java Standard Edition (Java SE) in the JCP. See here, here here, here, and here.

When the company joined OpenJDK in 2010, IBM vice president of open systems and Linux Bob Suitor called IBM's move a pragmatic choice. "We [IBM] expect to see some long needed reforms in the JCP... to make it more democratic, transparent, and open," he said. But Oracle owns the JCP, and there's no sign of a change yet.

With no sign of change in the JCP – and Oracle having done a perfectly executed U-turn on the kind of change it had supported – it's now looking increasingly as if OpenJDK is becoming Oracle's primary forum for Java SE.

And that would suit IBM, one of Java's biggest beneficiaries and individual corporate committers. On the JCP, IBM was just another member.

The change is important. Java SE is the foundation of Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE), and OpenJDK is an open-source implementation of Java SE. Announcing IBM's ASF-OpenJDK switcheroo last year, Sutor said: "IBM will work with Oracle and the Java community to make OpenJDK the primary high performance open source runtime for Java." ®

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