On Complexity and Good Intentions

We are now about six months into the process of migrating Java EE to the Eclipse Foundation, and I think we’re all learning a lot as we go. I wanted to take a moment and take stock of the scale of this project, its complexity, and where we are.

Java EE is a (roughly) twenty year old technology that is one of the world’s most successful software platforms. It powers the business critical applications that run our modern world. Millions of developers work with Java EE technologies every day. Billions of users use these systems every day. Throughout Java EE’s twenty year history it has been developed and marketed in a pretty particular way.

At the core of Java EE’s success has been an approach that enabled a multi-vendor ecosystem where enterprises had a choice of compatible implementations from a number of companies.

  • Java EE specifications were developed at the Java Community Process, using that JCP process where all intellectual property flowed to the Spec Lead, which was usually Sun (later Oracle). All participants in the specification process are signatories of the Java Specification Participation Agreement, which is a fairly complex legal document.
  • Progress and innovation in Java EE was largely governed by and driven within the constraints of this specification process.
  • Java EE reference implementations were, for the most part, developed by Oracle as part of the Glassfish (and related) project and made available under the CDDL and GPLv2+Classpath Exception licenses. Most of the developers were from Oracle, and the architectural vision and project management roles were performed by them. Contributors to the projects signed the Oracle Contributor Agreement that gave Oracle joint ownership of all contributions.
  • TCKs were developed entirely by Oracle and were highly confidential and tightly controlled. You had to sign an NDA just to get a copy of the TCK agreement if you were interested in getting access to the TCKs. The agreements were pretty dense and complex legal documents.
  • It was called Java EE. It had a logo that looked like a coffee cup. These trademarks were owned by Oracle and tightly controlled.
  • Generally speaking the big enterprises that used the technology were not involved in its evolution. For the most part, the contributors to the specs and implementations were from the Java EE platform vendors.

Together we are changing every single one of those items above. All at once. While retaining the core value of enabling compatible independent implementations in a multi-vendor ecosystem.

This is big and it is complicated.

I honestly believe that no institution other than the Eclipse Foundation could handle this task. We have the people, the skills, the history, and the knowledge of how the Java ecosystem works. The staff at the Eclipse Foundation are highly skilled and community minded professionals. Similarly, the team at Oracle, along with the folks from IBM, Payara, Red Hat, Tomitribe and the EE4J PMC are working hard to move this along. Collectively they are working their butts off to support this transition and to make Jakarta EE the platform and community of choice for the next twenty years.

Overall, I believe we’ve been pretty successful at managing the complexity, and working hard to communicate our progress and plans. We haven’t always been perfect, as case in point this past week where we had a bit of a kerfuffle on our Jakarta community mailing list. Without going into the details, I would say that the root cause of that was poor communication on my part. I didn’t do a good enough job in communicating the plans and dates for selecting the new logo. My bad.

Chris Anisczcyk, a good friend and open source community colleague of mine tweeted some months back that “Open source would be a lot more fun if everyone assumed good intentions.” With his wise words in mind, I want to say is this: what we are collectively undertaking here is a massive and complex task. Mistakes and miscommunications are going to happen. But let’s all assume good intentions, and build a community based on trust, honesty, and respect.

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Brandon Stewart's picture

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