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Community Still Waiting For Open JCP

Open Letter To The JCP Published

Jessica Thornsby
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The elections results may be in, but the community still have a few bug-bears when it comes to the JCP……

The JCP elections may be closed, but many members of the community are still calling for changes to be made to the organisation. Dan Allen and Lincoln Baxter have published an ‘Open letter to the JCP Executive Committee‘ calling for just such a reform. In the document, they pinpoint several issues they have with the JCP, including a lack of openness. They believe this stems from the fact that the EG mailing lists are, generally, not open to the public, despite the fact that these mailing lists are where the majority of technical decisions take place. Not only are the public locked out of the mailing lists, but EG members from one JSR, are not allowed to read the correspondence of any other JSR. This does not foster either competition or collaboration.

“Feedback is one directional, from community to EG. All the general public can see are the drafts of the JSRs. They don’t know how the EG arrived at that draft, meaning they aren’t able to study the discussions that went into it,” reads the complaint. The letter also claims the JCP ” fails to respect the nature of software development” by targeting “big-bang releases” instead of following an iterative process, which makes it difficult for consumers to carry out migrations, and gives the technology plenty of time to become seriously out-of-date while users wait for the next release.

So, what do Dan Allen and Lincoln Baxter propose as a solution? They want to see the JCP redefined as a more open organisation that fosters “a collaborative, evolutionary process” where specification documents, APIs, reference implementations and TCKs, are published under an open, non-clickthrough license. This means no TCK fees, and no closed mailing lists for JSRs. Cay Horstmann has already written that dropping the TCK fees will be the most difficult demand to achieve, as these test suites are expensive to develop and maintain, but perhaps Oracle could set up “a more equitable sharing of the work” in the future. In addition, the field of use restriction means that third party implementations of Java cannot run in the mobile and embedded space, and Cay Horstmann assumes that “Oracle isn’t just going to give up on that revenue.”

Dan Allen and Lincoln Baxter also want the names of individual representatives, and the companies they represent, to be listed on the specification page, and for the JCP to implement an official process for deprecating or removing a technology. Ideally, they would also like periodic EC meetings to be open to the public, platform releases occurring at regular, scheduled intervals, and a JCP funded by donations, rather than membership fees. Cay Horstmann makes a few additional suggestions, namely encouraging participation by improving the public forum on the JCP list, and implementing a set technical infrastructure across the JSR, instead of allowing each JSR to ‘cobble together’ their own tools.

JCP reform has been a hot topic for a while. In March, 2010, Mark Volkmann, a steering committee member of the Saint Louis Java Users Group said that he “felt a bit locked out of the process” of creating specifications, as the only way to impact on the JCP was to work for an influential company. And, following IBM’s decision to side with Oracle on OpenJDK, Bob Sutor blogged that IBM now expects “to see some long needed reforms in the JCP, the Java Community Process, to make it more democratic, transparent, and open.” CTO of SAP, Vishal Sikka has also urged Oracle to open the JCP, following their acquisition of Sun: “we believe it is essential to transition the stewardship of the language and platform into an authentically open body that is not dominated by an individual corporation…….Oracle has now the unique opportunity to open the Java Community Process.” Although some, such as Doug Lea, have already lost faith in the JCP ever being open.

“The technology is way ahead of the process,” summarises the open letter, before once again urging Oracle to take steps to open up the process.

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