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Apache Talks Open Source Java

Open source advocates clamoring for Sun Microsystems to open up their lock on Java may have found an answer in an Apache project named Harmony.

Under a proposal posted Friday to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) Incubator, the group said Apache could sponsor a rebuild of the Java 2, Standard Edition (J2SE) runtime platform from the ground up.

The full-scale implementation based on version 5.0 (Tiger) would be regulated under the open source Apache License 2.0 and include a community-developed modular run time (a virtual machine for running on PCs and other devices, as well as a class library for developers) and an interoperability test suite.

The result would be a Java-compatible package that could be more appealing to open source advocates who are leery of any fine print that Sun Microsystems puts in its donations, such as some of the bindings in OpenOffice.org.

While Sun executives have traditionally dismissed any suggestion that the company would freely submit the code to one of the pillars of the company, Harmony has garnered a blessing from the company in these early stages.

Sun's chief technologist for Java Software, Graham Hamilton, said he welcomes Apache's Harmony initiative and its commitment to compatibility with JCP specifications.

"We'll certainly be tracking this as it develops. We'll probably participate in the project at some level, although most of our efforts will continue to be focused on building Sun's reference implementation of J2SE," Hamilton said in a recent blog post.

"Personally, I am not entirely sure if the world really needs a second J2SE implementation, but at the same time, I am also glad to see that all the effort we put into getting the rules and the licensing issues straightened out is actually proving useful."

Harmony backers said their plan is simple and straightforward enough that they could begin coding immediately.

"It is meant to be a gathering of the tribes," Danese Cooper, open source guru and prominent advocate for open source Java, told internetnews.com. "It is not enough to have a JVM or a class library; you need the whole TCK [Technology Compatibility Kit]."

Cooper said the breakthrough came during a November meeting in Cambridge, England, when Jakarta Project chairman Geir Magnusson and others began discussing the proposal openly and honing in on the various parties that would be involved.

"Once Geronimo happened," Cooper said, "everyone knew the next step was Harmony. It was just a matter of Tiger finalizing and then a question of finding someone that could accept the TCK."

In its proposal, the Harmony group noted that there is a clear need for an open source version of J2SE. Currently, there are many ongoing efforts to produce solutions. There are also efforts that provide alternative approaches to the execution of Java bytecode from programs like the GNU Compiler for Java and IKVM, a Java Virtual Machine for the .NET Framework.

"All of these efforts provide a diversity of solutions, which is healthy, but barriers exist which prevent these efforts from reaching a greater potential," Magnusson said in a statement.

The only caveat at this point is that Apache wants to protect itself, its contributors and its users, from unauthorized incorporation of code or other intellectual property. Harmony backers said the group would explore additional ways to work with the Apache Incubator to ensure that all IP is carefully monitored and tracked as it enters the project.

The Harmony proposal now goes in front of the Incubator panel for review. No timeframe for response was given.