Java Licensing Changes Will Open Door to Open Source

Version 2.5 of Java Community Process will enable "clean room" development with no-fee test suites.

Open-source efforts will gain equal standing in Java technology development with Tuesdays announcement of significant changes to the Java Community Process agreements.

"Starting Tuesday, it will be mandatory that licenses provide for the possibility of a clean-room implementation," said Onno Kluyt, manager of the JCP Program Office. "A specification leader must offer a test suite independently of the reference implementation. It is required, going forward, that the test suite be available free of charge so that organizations like Apache dont face the hurdle of a license fee."

Kluyt said that non-profit organizations would now be able to compete in developing open-source versions of every Java technology: J2ME (the Micro Edition that runs on small devices such as cellular phones), J2SE (Standard Edition), and Version 1.4 of Java 2 Enterprise Edition when that specification comes out in the first half of next year. "Apache, for example, has been cooperative and creative," he said, "but felt that the existing Java Specification Participation Agreement was in conflict with their charter; you cant have a full member of a community that feels prohibited from living by its own rules."

Formal non-profit status, for example as an IRS 501c entity or another countrys equivalent, would typically make an organization eligible for this consideration, Kluyt explained, but the process will also be open to individuals who contribute to such efforts. What matters, Kluyt emphasized, is that such individuals be "free of ownership claims by their employers" for work they might do on their own time.

Its taken 21 months to develop the language that defines these changes, said Kluyt. "Redesigning a legal agreement with 32 lawyers--thats just not very easy. Everyone brings their favorite issues to the table. But our members are fierce competitors, who can still have their say--because everyone is committed to the compatibility of Java, and to making it work."

When eWEEK asked Kluyt to comment on a recent statement from Hewlett-Packard Co. that characterized Sun as taking a proprietary approach to Web applications, calling Microsofts .Net the "open, non-proprietary" framework, he responded, "What Microsoft does is openness via perception. With the Java Community Process, all of Java is standardized and specified--not just a subset that an owner chooses to make open." In the specific area of source code availability, he said, "what Microsoft is doing offers certain elements to the community, but a true community places things where everyone can see them, not just your best friends.

"The steps that were taking now, were fully opening the door on what someone can do with the specifications," he concluded, "provided that everyone builds compatible implementations. But you have to prove that when you do an implementation, it works the way the specification is written. The goal is a binary software standard."