THE COMMUNITY effort hosted by the Apache Software Foundation to create an open source, J2SE 5.0 compatible java runtime / virtual machine is progressing slowly but steadily. Despite some indifference and prejudice by some OSS pundits, the project has been recently moving along nicely with key players like Intel and IBM contributing their own programmers and source code to the effort.
Alexei Zakharov, from Intel's "Middleware Product Division" -yes, as our editor often points out, La Intella is also a software company- announced recently the DNS service provider for JNDI. Another Intel group, the "Managed Runtime Division" (holy!) also contributed security code.
IBM is doing its share as well, Tim Ellison from Big Blue announced the offering to the Apache Harmony project of a set of core Java classes, plus an implementation of a VM/class library interface: " I'm delighted to be able to make a code contribution to the Harmony project on behalf of IBM". IBM's code relates to the interface between virtual machine and class libraries. According to the project's news page, IBM's contribution "is sufficient to run Ant and the Eclipse Java compiler, to provide a basic self hosting environment. IBM also made a version of their J9 VM available for use by the project in evaluating this contribution."
Discussions are also currently under way between the Sable VM project and Project Harmony to contribute code and have some closer collaboration. The Sable VM, a java compatible virtual machine is a project started by Etienne Gagnon during his Ph.D. studies at McGill university. Etienne sent a message to the Harmony mailing list saying "Now that licensing seems not to be an issue anymore, I would like to propose a close collaboration between our two projects" and adding that "To summarize the public and private replies I got to this message: the prospect of establishing a strong collaboration was met with great enthusiasm.".
A bright future, a long journey
All these pieces will comprise one day -I expect sooner rather than later- a fully compatible, open source Java that has Sun's blessing, passes Sun's Technology Compatibility Kit ( TCK) tests, and which will hopefully please the folks not completely happy with Sun's freeware offering, at the same time letting Sun keep control of the platform.
In a 1996 memo Microsoft's then-VP Paul Maritz explained that it was necessary for the firm to "fundamentally blunt Java/AWT momentum" in order to "protect our core asset Windows - the thing we get paid $s for". This is a win-win scenario for Sun: by blessing Apache's "Project Harmony" while at the same time continuing with their own freeware JVM development, it lets the company please the OSS crowd and ensure compatibility, all while preventing others to "derail java", as Microsoft attempted with their windows-only extensions to the spec that once led to a long legal battle between the firms. µ