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June 9, 2003 — When Jason Hunter joined Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy onstage at last year's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, it appeared that Java and the open source community were on the verge of a new era of cooperation.
Hunter, an open source developer who had been leading an effort to standardize the Java XML modeling libraries he had written, had discovered incompatibilities between the way Sun created Java standards and the open source Apache license that he used for his libraries. Because these incompatibilities existed between Java and all open source software licenses, they threatened to make it impossible for the Apache Foundation to continue to implement Java standards.
His appearance at McNealy's keynote was to announce that his work had succeeded and that Sun had agreed to change Java to make it compatible with Apache's license. "I believe we have just made the Java community tighter as a community and much broader as a community with one move," McNealy said.
Hunter was equally enthusiastic. "The events at JavaOne greatly surpassed my expectations. I'm greatly optimistic for the future," he wrote in his blog the next day.
Now, over a year after his appearance at JavaOne, Hunter says he has abandoned his own Java standardization work, and critics are saying that the Java Community Process (JCP) that Sun uses to create Java standards is losing momentum as vendors find success in defining their own de facto Java standards.
IBM, for example, has reduced its participation in the JCP over the last year, according to Meta Group Senior Program Director Thomas Murphy. "Their main focus has been on their own thing," he said of IBM. "They've built Eclipse (IBM's open source developer tool) and the rest of their stuff has all been Web services. Definitely IBM has tapered off with respect to the JCP."
When he first began work on standardizing his libraries, called JDOM, Hunter believed that following the JCP seemed like a good way to make his software more popular, he said. As an official Java standard, it would have a greater chance of being included as part of Sun's JDK or perhaps as part of the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification, he said. But by the time he had settled the Apache dispute, Hunter was simply too exhausted to go to work on his own standard. Now, a year later, JDOM has become so popular on its own that he no longer sees a compelling reason to follow through with JCP standardization, he said.
Hunter's JDOM is one of a growing list of projects that are becoming popular outside the Java Community Process. In the last few years, the Struts Web application framework, the log4J logging tool and the Ant developer tool have all become widely adopted without being based on JCP standards.
"I definitely think that the JCP has broken down for some people," said Tim O'Reilly, president of O'Reilly & Associates. He said that the success of IBM's Eclipse, which uses a graphical interface toolkit called the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT), which has not been standardized through the JCP, has caused some partners to think twice before contributing code to Java's standards body. "They're just saying, 'We don't necessarily get anything from it,'" O'Reilly said.