Oracle, Java, and open source

The first big open-source-related stink has emerged in the wake of the Oracle-Sun merger ... and it involves MySQL, and the possible forking thereof by the original developers. The Java community has not been as quick to process developments, and to be sure the position of Java as a Sun homegrown product rather than a recent and somewhat uncomfortable acquisition is different. But Java users are starting to suss out their positions.

To start on the bright side, it's worth noting that, according to Stephen Colbourne's analysis, Oracle backed the Apache Software Foundation in its long-running dispute with Sun over compatibility kits -- in December 2007, anyway. But he also recognizes that there's a huge difference between being an outside company pressing Java's owner to open it up more and actually being Java's owner. There's no reason to believe that corporations (and the people who run them) will act consistently, except consistently in their own interests.

SpringSource's Rod Johnson, never shy about his opinions, seems ready to to put Sun into the Java museum along with Oracle acquisition BEA systems. In his mind, the true impetus for innovation has long come from outside Sun anyway, and Oracle swallowing up the company for its own just means that will continue -- which is possible because of the open source nature of the platform. Of course, he dismisses Java EE as "the stone age," seeing as Spring isn't based on that spec -- not least because it's all tied up with that self-same Java-ASF dispute.

Tim Anderson isn't so sanguine. He worries: "I see lots of references to 'open' and 'standard-based', which means nothing, but no mention of open source." He also points out that just because the genie of open source can't be put back into the bottle, that doesn't mean a project will stay healthy starved of resources; when trying to figure out if Java will get those resources from Oracle:

These open source projects have a momentum of their own and are protected by their licenses, but a significant factor is what proportion of the committers -- those who actually write the software and commit their changes to the repository -- are Sun employees. Although it is not possible to take back open source code, it is possible to reduce investment, or to start creating premium editions available only to commercial subscribers, which already appeared to be part of MySQL's strategy.

And it seems that people in the industry who rely on Java are getting a little anxious. Forrester analyst Ray Wang says that at least some of his clients are floating the idea of Oracle setting up some kind of foundation to run Java, perhaps run by Scott McNealy. The chances of this happening strike me as being exceedingly small, but such grumbles could be the opening shots in a battle between Oracle and the wider world of Java-focused companies.