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"Open Letter" or Extortion?

Posted by tball on April 10, 2007 at 2:22 PM PDT

Today, Geir Magnusson Jr., the Apache Software Foundation's VP of Java Community Process, issued an "Open Letter" to Sun Microsystems, addressed to Jonathan Schwartz. I put "Open Letter" in quotes because it reads like an ultimatum demanding a license they like to the Java SE 5 technology compatibility kit within thirty days (or else).

This request/ultimatum seems to have come out of left field. Is Apache Harmony so close to completion that it's ready to officially pass the JCK? Not according to its project page, which states it has 95% of the Java API complete but not necessarily compatible. Now, 95% of the Java platform is a big milestone for which the Apache Harmony engineers deserve a lot of credit for their hard work, but how useful would several thousand JCK errors be to them at this point in the project cycle? If I were in their position, I would instead ask that the JCK's current read-only license be rescinded so that the Harmony engineers can compile and run the tests specific to whatever they are individually working on to see what issues remain. IMHO, the JCK shouldn't be modifiable (it helps define the Java platform), but anyone should be able to compile and run it without legal hindrance. But that isn't what Mr. Magnusson seems to be asking for.

I just looked at my calendar and noticed that thirty days from today is smack in the middle of JavaOne, two days after Jonathan Schwartz's keynote. Mystery solved! This isn't about the Apache Harmony team's ability to work effectively -- it's instead a classic JavaOne slimy marketing ploy Java engineers have to endure each year. With the JavaOne schedule moved up I guess the mud had to start being thrown sooner.

I'm disappointed that this sort of tactic was employed by an organization I respect so much. In my opinion it's a form of extortion -- do what we want or we'll destroy your new open-source credibility at your largest developer conference. You expect that sort of behavior from patent trolls, not an esteemed organization like Apache. My only hope is that Mr. Magnusson was working independently of the rest of the Apache organization on this issue.

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