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Oracle caves, promises to crack open Java EE as v8 crawls ever closer

Big Red seeks open-source foundation to host platform

Oracle has revealed plans to shift Java Enterprise Edition to an open-source foundation as it promises delivery of version 8 is "approaching".

Java EE is already open source, with support led by Oracle, but in recent years there have been concerns that the firm was funnelling engineers onto other projects.

Although Oracle restated its commitment to Java EE last year, there have been continued calls for the firm to fully open it up. Some in the community are likely to be wary of being overly dependent on Oracle, and the threat of lock-in that comes with a big vendor.

But Big Red has now said that it thinks moving Java EE into an open-source foundation "is the right next step".

Oracle "software evangelist" David Delabassee wrote on the company's blog: "We believe there is an opportunity to rethink how Java EE is developed in order to make it more agile and responsive to changing industry and technology demands.

"Although Java EE is developed in open source with the participation of the Java EE community, often the process is not seen as being agile, flexible or open enough, particularly when compared to other open source communities. We'd like to do better.

"We believe that moving Java EE technologies including reference implementations and test compatibility kit to an open source foundation may be the right next step, in order to adopt more agile processes, implement more flexible licensing, and change the governance process."

The decision to open up Java EE likely came down to a judgement call, said Dale Vile, analyst at Freeform Dynamics. That is, whether the firm would lose more by retaining its hold over Java EE but having to continue to lead the community, or by relaxing its grip.

But taking a more hands-off approach should encourage greater innovation, he added, and should be welcomed by the community that has been pressuring Oracle to take this step for years.

John Clingan, senior principal product manager at open-source software company Red Hat – which is closely involved in Java community MicroProfile – described it as "a very positive move that will benefit the entire Enterprise Java community".

He added that RedHat "is optimistic and applauds Oracle's decision to advance Java EE under an open and collaborative community".

Analyst Bola Rotibi, founder of Creative Intellect, agreed, describing the shift to an open-source foundation as a "good and important move".

"Java is still highly popular, and I think the move signifies the depth, breadth and scope of the capability available and support needed from the community – even a company as big as Oracle can't do it on its own."

But both Rotibi and Vile stressed that this could not be the end for Oracle's involvement in Java.

For one thing, Vile said, many of Oracle's corporate customers rely on Java, and they will want the reassurance that it will continue to be supported.

"They need to keep enough engineers working on it to keep corporates happy and hold up their heads and say it's a robust and secure environment," he said.

Rotibi argued that there "still needs to be a heavyweight supporter for the open source to really take hold" and to ensure that Java remains relevant "as competitors continue to snap at its heels".

It isn't yet clear which open-source foundation might host Java EE – the Oracle blog post said it would be discussing how to do this with "the community, our licensees and several candidate foundations".

One possibility would be the Eclipse Foundation, which told The Reg that, if chosen to be the host for the Java EE platform, it "would be pleased to do so".

"We believe that our approach to vendor-neutral governance and open collaboration would be of significant value to the Java EE platform and community," a spokesperson trilled.

Meanwhile, Delabassee's post indicates that the launch of the much-delayed Java EE 8 is yet to come.

The software was due to land a year ago, at JavaOne 2016, but earlier this year Big Red said it would finally appear in July 2017 – a date that has well since been and gone.

Delabassee remained positive about both the launch, and perhaps the calendar. He said that "specifications are nearly complete" and that delivery was expected "this summer", which, on looking out the window at Vulture Central, appears to have been and gone too. ®

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