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Oracle reinforces bad-guy reputation with Java EE turmoil

Oracle stands accused of failing the Java community, pulling funding and developer resources from the Enterprise Edition of its Java language – a core component of many internet-based systems, which Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems six years ago.

Members of the Oracle developer community have said that work on Java has slowed in the past months, and for the Enterprise Edition (EE), work has come to a standstill. Talk of forking Java EE has been made, which would see developers essentially copy the code and continue their own development on this forked version, while Oracle presumably lets its own version waste.

The company has been silent on the matter, and Gier Magnusson, a member of the Java Community Process Executive Committee, told Ars Technica “it’s a dangerous game they’re playing. It’s amazing – there’s a company here that’s making us miss Sun.”

Magnusson goes on to say that Oracle’s behavior is familiar to anyone familiar with its decision making and historic patterns – as it did with OpenSolaris and OpenOffice. Oracle has made no official comment on the matter, and a petition from Java developers has even been launched on Change.org – calling for Oracle to restart its development on Java EE, or transfer it to community ownership.

But open-sourcing Java EE is a move that is nearly completely counter to Oracle’s current and historic business practices. Larry Ellison does not simply give away IP-rights.

The petition’s makers, the Java EE Guardians, feature Reza Rahman, a former Oracle employee who held the title of Java Evangelist. Rahman told Ars Technica that “the short and long term risks for the Java community and industry are immense. Java and Java EE are pervasive technologies much of global IT depends upon. Every part of the Java ecosystem will become weakened over time, as will global IT, at least in the short term.”

Ars Technica notes that it tried to speak to Oracle staff and representatives, as well as customers, and found that none would speak on the record – for fear of legal repercussions from Oracle.

This is largely to be expected. Oracle is infamous for its use of legal proceedings to boost its bottom-line. It is currently embroiled with multi-billion dollar lawsuits with HPE and Google, and is known to use the threat of a software audit as a sales tool.

But for the IoT, Java EE is another lesson in the dangers of being beholden to an entity that has no vested in your survival. That’s something of an extreme view to take, but it’s not misleading. Open source makes a lot of sense, as a means of avoiding vendor lock-in, but the problem with open source is that it has a tendency to fragment, or end up being really good at specific niches but not so strong in platform offerings – and platforms are what the IoT desperately needs for driving adoption.

Rethink’s examination of the Google-Oracle API case at the end of May noted that while many in the industry were celebrating the defeat of a $9bn+ lawsuit, the tenet of copyrightable APIs that was a the core of the case remained intact.

Oracle claimed that Google had breached copyright in the use of 37 Java APIs for its Android OS. Much of the wider media and industry criticism pointed to the absurdity of trying to copyright an API in the first place, but crucially in this ruling, the previously controversial court ruling that an API could be copyrighted in the first place was apparently upheld – it’s just that Google got off the hook as the jury decided that its use of the Java APIs constituted Fair Use, and therefore didn’t breach the copyright protections.

Software patent disputes have frequently seen juries make unpredictable decisions, and the speed of the Google-Oracle decision was something of a surprise itself – especially given the transcripts that showed the bizarre and abstract ways that lawyers tried to explain programming and APIs to the jury.

But Oracle likely sees its IP as a low-risk and/or low-cost way of boosting its profits, using its intimidating legal team to pressure companies to accept pre-trial settlements, or threatening to tie them up in the legal system for months or years to come – resources that smaller companies simply do not have.

Fair Use, predominantly found in the US legal system, is essentially always used as a defense against an allegation, which means that IoT developers using APIs are juicy targets for patent trolls and those with axes to grind. Either we’ve picked up the wrong end of the stick, or API copyright claims are going to start appearing in US courts a lot more frequently in the coming years.

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