Older blog entries for robilad (starting at number 97)

12 Jul 2006 (updated 12 Jul 2006 at 13:10 UTC) »
Just a bunch of small improvements to the JCP

Simon Phipps talked about having a level playing field a while ago, and Sun's Rich Green indicated at Java One that the JCP would like to see more members. Ken Arnold talked about the reforms necessary in the JCP to make it happen. Let me throw a few softballs as well.

Compatibility is great. Everyone wants that. In practice compatibility is easy, too. It just takes a few things:

  1. there is non-discriminatory licensed code to look at and/or reuse
  2. there are non-discriminatory licensed specs, which are implementable, and are detailed enough to allow interoperability
  3. there are non-discrimininatory licensed, extensive test suites to verify that the end result interoperates correctly with whatever else is out there
. With the Java 1.5 JSR, we've finally got one of the three, sorta, as that was the first Java specification release under a license that allows free software implementations. The official implementation and test suite have licences that fall short of the non-discriminatory goal.

The problem that Simon talks about, is real. A quasi-monopolist can ruin a platform for others. See the ongoing fight of the EU vs. Microsoft to ensure a level playing field in the Windows arena. Or see the fight Apache had with Sun to ensure that specifications coming out of the JCP can be implemented as free software, to allow a level playing field to exist between free and proprietary implementations of the 'industry standards'. As the times have changed, now it's Sun that's afraid of someone else putting the pressure on them by tilting the playing field to their favour, shifting the thinking from building a 'community' to creating good 'governance'.

For Java to be safe from someone tilting the playing field in their favour in the future, the JCP will need to open up radically, to embrace participation from new members on all levels. It needs to grow much further than the few hundred individuals and vendors that are in it today. It needs to put some power into the hands of the membership, so that anti-social behaviour by vendors can be dealt with effectively and publicly.

For that, it needs to come with full, mandated transparency on every JSR, no-strings-attached access to specifications and test suites, like W3C does. It needs to have a patent policy that requires disclosure of patents embedded in specified technology, and creates a patent covenant around each JSR.

It needs to make the life of Java developers and easier, not harder, as it does currently.

So, here is a small list of items to fix in an upcoming JCP 2.7:

  1. The JSPA legalese required to participate is way too long, way too NDA-ish. I want to help improve specifications. Making all the individuals who'd be able to help spend their time dissecting 10 pages of dense legalese before they can help is not such a great idea.

    The JCP should either drop the JSPA for participating on the JSRs, or cut it down to one page with clearly spelled out rights and obligations of the membership.

  2. The legal restrictions on participants in JSRs are unclear. When the call went around to join the Mustang JSR, I asked the spec lead what the legal implications would be on me as an independant implementor, but got no real reply. If Sun's spec lead on the Mustang JSR can't figure out what the legalese means, then there is someting seriously flawed with the system. It seems that those restrictions largely exist to resolve problems coming from the lack of a separate name space for draft specifications, and the resulting potential for confusion between partial and full implementations of the specs.

    Use the org.jcp.draft.* namespace for the draft specs, then.

  3. Most core Java JSRs are not transparent, for members and non-members alike. If I want to know what's being cooked in JSR 277, to pick an example, I wouldn't be any wiser than I am now if I joined the JCP, as the spec lead is not encouraging public participation on that JSR, within or outside the JCP.

    JCP should mandate full transparency on JSRs by default, and have a jcp.java.net project associated with each JSR, with a public mailing list archive, RI source code archive and the TCK, as they are being developped, rather than leaving it up to spec leads to set their own rules on transparency.

  4. JCP is currently focused on quantity, rather than quality of the specs. In particular in the area I am familiar with, Java 1.5, there are several APIs that are very poorly specified, and should have never become part of Java. Stuff like this is rather bad in an industry standard.

    There should be some effort to ensure quality: require two independant and interoperable implementations of a JSR for it to be allowed to move to the final vote, and require a certain amount of test and assertion coverage in the TCK.

10 Jul 2006 (updated 10 Jul 2006 at 20:11 UTC) »
Java Modularity Pointers

Every now and then, there is some thread somewhere where Java developers get to exclaim their demand for interesting features. It seems that modularisation is going to be a hot topic, judging by the JCP struggle between Sun and OSGi, i.e. JSR 277 and JSR 291, and talk at the various 'community' sites.

Looking at Richard S. Hall's slides from ApacheCon Europe, which lifts some of the NDA veils that Sun keeps for whatever weird reason on JSR 277, a lot of the thinking behind the various plans seems to work towards enabling annotations of the code with various constructs, be it annotations to describe module structure, versions, or bundles. If it requires manual labor, I'm not sure if it is going to take over the world, though. See Maven, OSGI bundles, Ivy, etc. all of which are pretty nice, but require someone to do some work to take care of the metadata, and keep it all up to date, which has kept the repositories relatively small.

So, what else is out there, that tries to solve the problem more automatically?

Beside Luca Cardelli's foundational work in the area, there has been a lot of interesting work done at DISI in Genua.

In an ideal world, my compiled classes would have additional information on their dependencies for rebuilding and linkage, in form of type constraints, so that I could query a module repository's database for the set of classes that would safely link, while preserving binary compatiblity, and refine the set to only the classes fullfilling constraints on their tagged versions, binary hashes, etc. The module repository database of type information would be largely automatically compiled by extracting exported types and their linkage constraints from the class files, and allow annotating them with some manual versioning information, for additional convenience. The module repository would be able to translate module names between its own format, and my local packaging system, and detect that it doesn't have to download a class that Debian already packages in a suitable bytecode version, or as a suitable gcj-ed native DSO. It'd be able to degrade gracefuly on systems without native software packaging mechanisms. In an ideal world, the module repository would figure out which native library to load based on the native linkage symbols in the class file, without requiring an explicit System.loadLibrary() call in the Java code, and the guessing game of DSO names.

That's what I'd like to see a future Java module system do or at least make possible.

Jumbo

I came accross an interesting paper on using Jumbo to optimize marshalling in Kaffe's ObjectOutputStream by a factor of magnitude, or two.

Makes me wonder what it would do for speeding up reflection, as well.

6 Jul 2006 (updated 6 Jul 2006 at 16:23 UTC) »
How not to license specification drafts

I've recently thought I should take a peek at what's happening with the Java Compiler API JSR, to see what all the years of effort have led to. It turned out that the recently published JSR spec draft is under one of those bogus licenses that the JCP uses per default, that make you promise to give up your freedom to develop what you want, in exchange for the opportunity to comment and help improve the respective specification.

That's bogus, of course, but that's how the JCP works. In particular, the Java Compiler API draft has the following gem of legalese in its license text:

"The grant set forth above concerning your distribution of implementations of the specification is contingent upon your agreement to terminate development and distribution of your implementation of early draft upon final completion of the specification. If you fail to do so, the foregoing grant shall be considered null and void."

Well, I don't think I'll be taking part in reviewing that spec's public draft, then, if I can't try to implement it, and keep developing my own work, after some arbitrary date.

The wisdom of creating specs behind firmly shut doors, like Sun does in most of the JSRs they lead, and simultaneously making specification review impossible for independant implementors unless they agree to stop development on their independant implementations, is rather questionable. That way, the only thing that's for sure, is that a specification gets next to no public review from people who'd be able to comment on it with practical experiences implementing it.

If the independant implementors are not supposed to be able to comment on the drafts, why publish them in the first place, or have the whole JCP system at all?

Unfortunately, the self-defeating licensing conditions of the Java Compiler API JSR public draft are no exception. In fact, the whole Mustang spec is licensed under the same conditions, judging by the license for the spec.

19 May 2006 (updated 20 May 2006 at 00:43 UTC) »
GNU Classpath At Java One At Last

Fernando did a podcast/talk at this year's Java One on the state of free runtimes, and associated projects. Nice stuff, though listening to demos of GNU Classpath feels weird, because I can 'see' what's being demoed.

Next year, I'll have to try to get a "Smashing The Java Trap: An Illustrated HowTo" talk accepted.

19 May 2006 (updated 20 May 2006 at 00:44 UTC) »
We've Come A Long Way, Baby

One of the benefits of Kaffe is that it is wildly portable. Almost any combination of cpu and os has got a port somewhere, and new ports keep coming in at a steady rate. In particular, you can now shortcut Sun's complicated build process for their proprietary 1.5 release using Kaffe, at least on x86_64-openbsd.

Fun, in a twisted way.

17 May 2006 (updated 17 May 2006 at 16:32 UTC) »
Apropos

So, according to the last big news, the big question is no longer if, but how. This is how:

The closest collaboration point between free software Java developers outside Sun and the engineers on the other side would be the test suites. Since the free software projects like GNU Classpath and Apache Harmony, just like Sun's developers consider compatibility to be one of their prime goals, a merge of the respective test suite code to a common, free software, compatibility & regression test suite for the core Java specifications would be pretty useful for all implementors, as well as distributions using the DLJ.

Meanwhile, the simplest thing Sun could do to make open source Java reality a little sooner, and create a collaboration effort, would be to modify the current "Read Only" JCK license to allow compilation and execution of Sun's official test suite by independent implementations.

17 May 2006 (updated 17 May 2006 at 13:15 UTC) »
Anticipation

It's JavaOne time again, and Sun's collection of Java technology licenses includes a new addition, the Distro License for Java, aka DLJ.

On a cursory glance, I'd agree with what David Walluck said on debian-legal, it's a rather odd license choice, which seems to in part address some of the problems from the BCL, but in exchange seems to add a bunch of new ones.

I hope the forthcoming discussion on debian-legal will clear it up.

Perestroika

Some time after introducing Glasnost, there is a small substitution at Sun's leadership.

In the best Sun PR tradition of not letting facts get too much in the way of a PR message, the press release credits Sun for "the open sourcing of Java[tm]", something Sun never did.

Au contraire, mes amis: Here is a characteristic quote from McNealy on 'open sourcing Java': "I don't know what problem that would solve apart from IBM's childhood envy". Schwartz has been more diplomatic in explaining Sun's reasoning in the past, with quotes like "Our refusal has nothing to do with Sun being proprietary and everything to do with wanting to keep Java from forking", but has still sayed true to the party line.

Looking at Sun's handling of J2SE and the JCP, and Sun's lack of good fortune, last April's "Schwartz also predicted that companies that pledge support for open-source software but that keep their own products proprietary will eventually be exposed as hypocrites and fall by the wayside" sounds a bit ominous for Sun's future. As much as I hope that Sun does not fall by wayside, I doubt that Schwartz sees the need for a full-fledged open source Perestroika.

Who needs specifications, anyway?

Wontfixing standards

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