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Oracle and Open Source: A List of Grievances

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For the seven months that Oracle has owned Sun's technological assets, they have welcome contributions and roadmaps for their inherited open source projects.  However, the company has also made several crucial missteps in its handling of OSS projects and their respective communities.  Given their bureaucratic PR process and virtual radio-silence on some issues.  Here are the top five grievances against Oracle that have not been properly resolved for the open source community:

5.  Pulling the Plug on Postgres Servers 

Last month Oracle cut off a couple of servers that Sun had allowed the PostgreSQL project to use for development.  This wouldn't have been as big of a deal if Oracle had given the PostgreSQL developers prior warning.  True, PostgreSQL is a competitor to both MySQL and Oracle's proprietary RDBMS, but with no warning and no communication about the move whatsoever, we can only assume that this is just Oracle being inconsiderate and silent, or just a spiteful move against a competitor.  The cost to Oracle to maintain those servers was insignificant, and PostgreSQL is still way behind MySQL in DB market share.  Sun seems to have cared more about the open source community as a whole, even by helping its competitor.  This incident is one of many that shows how little Oracle cares about the open source community (at least those who are in charge at Oracle, it seems).  The recent increase in Oracle-to-PostgreSQL migrations might be causing concern at Oracle.

4.  Squandering of Talented Sun Developers, Especially Gosling 

We saw scores of talented developers leave Sun before the acquisition was even approved.  The list was a virtual who's who of famous Java and open source developers.  The exiles included Simon Phipps (an Open Source director), Charles Nutter (inventor of JRuby), Kohsuke Kawaguchi (inventor of Hudson), Tim Bray (co-inventor of XML), and James Gosling (inventor of Java).  Gosling's departure was especially disturbing for the Java community because he subsequently made increasingly angry comments concerning Oracle in his blog.  Tim Bray, like all the other departures, seemed to be sworn into silence by Oracle's lawyers, and in talking about his reasons for departure he said, "I'll maybe tell the story when I can think about it without getting that weird spiking-blood-pressure sensation in my eyeballs."

3.  Killing OpenSolaris

A recent internal memo shows that the OpenSolaris project is probably finished, and it will be folded into a more closed model in Solaris 11 and Solaris 11 Express.  Oracle gave little warning about this move as well, but at least the community saw it coming.  The OpenSolaris Governance Board, which included Simon Phipps, was ready to dissolve when an Oracle manager couldn't even keep his commitment to attend a meeting after months of hearing nothing.  Thank goodness the Illumos project has arrived to rebuild the OpenSolaris community and continue an open path for the technology.  Yet another case where Oracle isn't very concerned about Sun's open source communities, and the resentment that it creates against the company.

2.  JCP and Harmony Proposal Backpedalling 

Remember in 2007 when Oracle proposed a resolution for reforming the Java Community Process?

"It is the sense of the Executive Committee that the JCP become an open independent vendor-neutral Standards Organization where all members participate on a level playing field with the following characteristics:

    •    members fund development and management expenses
    •    a legal entity with by-laws, governing body, membership, etc.
    •    a new, simplified IPR Policy that permits the broadest number of implementations
    •    stringent compatibility requirements
    •    dedicated to promoting the Java programming model

Furthermore, the EC shall put a plan in place to make such transition as soon as practical with minimal disruption to the Java Community."

It's funny how the new "steward" of Java hasn't made an effort to push this resolution now that the "level playing field" doesn't benefit them in their currently strong position.  The company has also apparently backpedalled on their previous support of Apache Harmony's position against Sun.  Now that Oracle owns the Java licenses, Apache Harmony is in their way.

1.  Suing Google

Now the big one.  The news that has completely broken the trust (for some, it wasn't much) that Java and open source community members had in Oracle.  If they can sue Google over what seems like general Java-related patents, why can't they sue several other organizations like Red Hat, Eclipse, or smaller Java OSS groups?  Before last week, most developers seemed to grudgingly accept Oracle's stewardship of Java, but now many wish that the Java licenses were in the hands of IBM.  The damage from this will be hard, if not impossible to repair.


Otengi Miloskov replied on Sun, 2010/08/15 - 10:30pm

About this isue of Google for example Dalvik is based on Java SE, Android is an OS for PC, netbook, Laptop or smartphone. Everything is based on OpenJDK so Java is GPL with the classpath exception, Why Google needs a license with Oracle?, Cause dalvik is based on Harmony? but I think Dalvik already using OpenJDK stuff so it complains to the GPL plus dalvik is open source you can get a copy of the source. Also I was reading somewhere that Oracle patents Google is infringing cant be applied anymore so it means all this thing is bullshit and Oracle did an auto FUD to their own platform as some people said they shoot their self in the foot. This is dumbest thing Oracle ever did or any company, Even Microsoft is not that stupid, Oracle does not have a case and Java is FREE is GPLed. Oracle does not have the capacity to control Java and Java the ecosystem and also they suck big time driving opensource. It was a joke Oracle was at the last Linux show they dont know the spirit of opensource, they just know to make money but not with innovation they just buy other companies and cash cow everything. Like a Virus.

Andrew McVeigh replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 6:30am

Remember in 2007 when Oracle proposed a resolution for reforming the Java Community Process?

i remember this well, and all the pressure on Sun that Oracle and IBM and others placed on them, effectively saying to Sun: "If we owned this we'll run it for the good of the community".

As we now know, that was trash talk.  I still can't believe I listened to this and believed their intentions at the time.

from oracle's submission to the USPTO in '94:

Oracle Corporation opposes the patentability of software. The Company believes that existing copyright law and available trade secret protections, as opposed to patent law, are better suited to protecting computer software developments.

I guess when the shoes on the other foot and it's oracle owning the patents, it's ok?  Let's hope that the whole affair causes google and oracle and apple and microsoft and others to go crazy and sue the hell out of each other and bring the broken US software patent system down.

John J. Franey replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 7:16am

I'll keep an open mind going forward. Its only been a few days.

First, all of activity behind the grievances above have no impact on my deliverables, near or long term. Among the grievances above, the only one that could have impact on my deliverables might be the closing of Open Solaris. However, I don't use Open Solaris.

Second, 'Postgres servers', 'Sun Talent' and 'JCP reformation' grievances sound like whining. The impact of pulling the postgres servers is real to a few people, and I don't mean to be insensitive to their situation, but the assertion made by the grievance has no basis: that a no-notice shutdown demonstrates ONLY a disregard for the open-source community. As far as the 'talent squandering' charge, again, we are talking about real people here, and I don't like to turn their situation into a political soccer game, but is it really a problem that Oracle doesn't run EVERY hi-tech java project in the world? As far as 'JCP reformation' goes, I'd rather cry at the mountain for being so big. Duh.

Third, the patent case is in such an early stage its difficult to know what is what. I don't buy Google's PR about the suit being an attack on the community. That is 'hearts-and-minds' politics and I will wait to see if it stands up against the facts. Google is not Roy Rogers. Every IP law is not evil: copyright law was used to create the 'open source' system to begin with. Software patents are hated, but have some role in protecting open source assets. Whether Oracle's assertion of its patents protects Java (the ecosystem) is a question I will want to see answered while this case plays out. Today's screams against Oracle's action is noise. There have been only two business days since the suit was announced by Oracle; way too early to yell "GUILTY!"

Ryan Developer replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 7:52am

Before last week, most developers seemed to grudgingly accept Oracle's stewardship of Java, but now many wish that the Java licenses were in the hands of IBM.  The damage from this will be hard, if not impossible to repair.

I think you speak for a minority of the Java community.  I certainly don't share that opinion.


Also, the source code for OpenSolaris is not becoming closed source, and new additions will continue to use an open source license.  You will no longer have access to the roadmap or source code under development until it is released though, unless you join their OTN partner program. So if you are a serious contributor, sign up:

We will have a technology partner program to permit our industry
partners full access to the in-development Solaris source code through
the Oracle Technology Network (OTN). This will include both early
access to code and binaries, as well as contributions to us where that
is appropriate. All such partnerships will be evaluated on a case-by-
case basis, but certainly our core, existing technology partnerships,
such as the one with Intel, are examples of valued participation.

(2) We want the adoption of our technology and intellectual property to
accelerate our overall goals, yet not permit competitors to derive
business advantage (or FUD) from our innovations before we do.

We are increasing investment in Solaris, including hiring operating
system expertise from throughout the industry, as a sign of our
commitment to these goals. Solaris is not something we outsource to
others, it is not the assembly of someone else’s technology, and it is
not a sustaining-only product. We expect the top operating systems
engineers in the industry, i.e. all of you, to be creating and
delivering innovations that continue to make Solaris unique,
differentiated, and valuable to our customers, and a unique asset of
our business.


Discontinuing a build server for an open source product who's commercial version claims to be 100% compatible with the Oracle database (PostgreSQL) should have been expected. How can you be surprised?


Michael Urban replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 9:17am

Before last week, most developers seemed to grudgingly accept Oracle's stewardship of Java.

 I also think you are probably in the minority. I've been concerned enough about the future of Java now that Oracle owns it that I have been seriously reconsidering whether I want to continue to use it for developing new projects. The departure of James Gosling concerned me greatly.

 Unfortunately, at this point, I think the answer for me is no. And I am likely going to start using other open source options such as Python or Ruby for all of my future projects.

And it's not just Java that concerns me. It's whether Oracle will continue to support other products I use such as Glassfish (they claim they will, but given it competes directly with WebLogic, I have a hard time believing they will), MySQL, and NetBeans.

I think Java developers would have been a lot more comfortable if IBM had gotten Sun instead of Oracle. IBM at least has a proven track record of supporting the Java community and supporting open source. The same cannot be said of Oracle. And suing Google over Dalvik only proves that Oracle is not interested in supporting the open source Java ecosystem.

 At least I don't have to worry about Yukihiro Matsumoto, Guido van Rossum, or  David Heinemeier Hansson suing me if I decide to extend Python, Ruby, or Rails to support my own needs. It seems the same cannot be said for Oracle when it comes to Java.

 What will Oracle go after next? Google App Engine? GWT?

Mitch Pronschinske replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 9:47am in response to:

@ Ryan

You're right, the OpenSolaris is not becoming closed source, but I said that the project was being merged into Solaris, which is adopting "a more closed model,"  which is the same interpretation that Nexenta had.

You're probably right also about no one trusting Oracle in the first place.  :)

Dudu Zerah replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 11:38am

Google made a good JVM, the best for small devices. But it's incompatible with java, only the sintax are the same. So, it's not Java at all... you can't use any java framework, neither any java tool, it doesn't run anywhere. Google did the right decision to software future, but they need to respect the rules.

Michael Urban replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 11:54am in response to: Dudu Zerah

Google isn't calling it Java. So I don't see where they violated any rules.

Jacek Furmankiewicz replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 12:37pm

I can imagine that many folks on the JDK dev teams @ Oracle must be pretty upset about how suddenly they became enemies of the same community they helped create...must make for some interesting water cooler talk at the ex-Sun offices.

Otengi Miloskov replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 12:58pm

In the real life the most what matters is $$$ so Oracle have to get back what they invest on Sun and Java even Java community disappear Oracle needs their money back and they could use Java just for inhouse and their customers as with abap and SAP. Also future version of Java Oracle can relicensing to proprietary license so that will be really bad and maybe some people will want to fork OpenJDK 6. So will be OpenJDK6 forks everywhere. Me I think this is a vicious circle already, Java is not an "open standard" is a proprietary platform of Oracle and they can do what ever they like with it of course.

John J. Franey replied on Mon, 2010/08/16 - 1:45pm

... and what do we say to our executive managers, those who agree to fund our enterprise projects. We just completed our design proposal for new software features to our flagship product. Reuse of open source software is part of the proposal. Then, the executive manager says something like: "There seems to be strong objection in the open source community against a corporation protecting its corporate property. If we use open source in this project, do we have to give away our competitive advantage of our IP?"

Too loud of a backlash against Oracle from the open source community could unexpectedly undermine the position of open source projects in 'for profit' enterprises. Unintended consequences.

Claude Lalyre replied on Wed, 2010/08/18 - 9:06am

In my opinion, with the projet "Open JDK" Oracle cannot proclaim the ownership Java language !

Gauthier, Hough... replied on Thu, 2011/08/04 - 1:22pm

The only exclusion is servers, or daemons, which also don't have an interface besides the command line. They are all Web-based graphical interfaces to Oracle in some way or other. -Gauthier, Houghtaling and Williams

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