Oracle has not ruled out a return of the Apache Software Foundation to return to the Java Community Process after the open-source organization gave up its seat on the JCP Executive Committee in protest over what it calls unfair licensing practices around the Test Compatibility Kit.

Apache’s move comes after years of infighting with Sun Microsystems. That fight has continued with Oracle in place of Sun, and it centers over what Apache considers to be a breach of promise and license.

The battle began over the Test Compatibility Kit for Java SE 5, and has since remained simmering. Apache claims that the license used for Java SE 7’s TCK removes the freedoms of the Java implementers. Specifically, the TCK license only grants the implementer license to use their Java in desktops, servers and mobile devices. The license explicitly leaves out embedded systems and appliances, an omission the Apache Foundation considers dangerous to any entity that would implement the JCP’s standards.

The ASF, which served on the JCP Executive Committee for 10 years, issued a statement on Dec. 9, 2010, about the resignation. In it, the non-profit stated that the JCP Executive Committee failed at its only chance to fix the limitations of the Java SE 7 TCK.
“The members of the EC refused to stand up for the rights of implementers, and by accepting Oracle’s TCK license terms for Java SE 7, they let the integrity of the JCP’s licensing structure be broken,” read the statement.

The statement went on to state that the ASF does not feel that the JCP is a valid standards organization.

“The Apache Software Foundation concludes that that JCP is not an open specification process—that Java specifications are proprietary technology that must be licensed directly from the spec lead under whatever terms the spec lead chooses; that the commercial concerns of a single entity, Oracle, will continue to seriously interfere with and bias the transparent governance of the ecosystem; that it is impossible to distribute independent implementations of JSRs under open-source licenses such that users are protected from IP litigation by expert group members or the spec lead; and finally, the EC is unwilling or unable to assert the basic power of their role in the JCP governance process.”

Adam Messinger, vice president of development at Oracle, issued a statement the following day, in which he asks the Apache Foundation to reconsider its decision.

“Apache voted against initiating technical committee work on both SE 7 and SE 8, effectively voting against moving Java forward,” he said. “Oracle has a responsibility to move Java forward and to maintain the uniformity of the Java standard for the millions of Java developers, and the majority of Executive Committee members agree. We encourage Apache to reconsider its position and remain a part of the process to move Java forward. ASF and many open-source projects within it are an important part of the overall Java ecosystem.”

Rod Johnson, director of the SpringSource business unit of VMware and a member of the JCP Executive Committee, said that the EC decided to move Java forward while ignoring the TCK issue because it was believed that Java needed to move forward before anything else could be addressed.

“I think that this vote around the Java SE 7 and SE 8 plan was difficult for us,” he said. “We chose to vote on the technical merits, and we felt we didn’t want to let an organizational dispute get in the way of something that makes actual sense.

“This has to be a wakeup call in the sense that the restrictions around the field of use of the TCK. The fact that I think over time most of the members of the JCP have supported the Apache position on this, including Oracle.”

Johnson also said that Apache’s departure from the Executive Committee is not a catastrophe. “I don’t think it really changes anything. If you look at Apache projects, some of the most important Java programs are at Apache. The most popular production deployment platforms for Java Web Applications is Apache Tomcat, and Apache does a lot of stuff with Java.”

Johnson added that he would like to see the TCK offered under the GPL, like the OpenJDK itself. “We would love to see the TCK published under similar conditions. Honestly, I think if you look at what’s happening in the Java community and look at the continued health and proliferation of Java open-source projects, I think one community dispute shouldn’t color that community as a whole.”