We have unfinished business, I and he

Apache redraws battle lines against Oracle licensing

Elliot Bentley

What’s the story between the ASF’s objection to the Java Community Process and Java’s Tech Compatibility Kits?

Apache Software Foundation (ASF) reopened old wounds with a

this week, seemingly out of the blue, which
reiterated its opposition to Oracle’s open source policies.

Specifically, the ASF objects to the fact that test suites
ensuring adherence to Java’s spec, known as Technology
Compatibility Kits or TCKs, are essentially closed-source. Any code
licensed with Oracle’s TCKs therefore becomes incompatible with the
open Apache License.

This is far from new. Despite being home to many important Java
projects – including Hadoop, Ant and Maven – the ASF has a long
history of objecting to the practices of Java’s stalwarts, both
Oracle and Sun Microsystems before it.

In the early 2000s, lengthy negotiations eventually resulted in
change to TCK licenses
– even if Sun itself did not stick to
it. Oracle, too, has continued to license their TCKs in a way that
the ASF says it finds unacceptable.

The debate escalated in 2009 and 2010, with several months of

public arguments
over Apache Harmony, an open source
implementation of Java. Despite being a member of the JCP (Java
Community Process, the governance body behind Java), the ASF was
denied open access to the relevant TCKs.

The foundation then somewhat churlishly encouraged fellow JCP
members to
vote down Java 7 in protest
– but when that failed, it
retired from the board altogether
. Apache Harmony was finally
abandoned in 2011
, despite being 95% complete.

The mexican standoff between Oracle and the ASF has continued to
bubble under the surface ever since. Earlier this year, VMware’s
Oliver Gierke
briefly reignited the debate
when he joined the JPA 2.1 Expert
Group – and found, to his surprise, that the TCKs were almost
entirely controlled by Oracle.

What prompted the ASF to release a new (but fundamentally
unchanged) statement on the situation this week is unclear.
However, if its authors’ aim was to bring the subject to light once
more, they at least succeeded in capturing
the attention of Twitter
for a few minutes. Even Oracle
evangelist Bruno Borges agreed:

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