NetBeans Going to Apache: Is Java Next?

NetBeans Going to Apache: Is Java Next?

Most followers of open source probably weren't surprised by Wednesday's fuss over NetBeans' possible move from Oracle to the Apache Software Foundation. If you missed it, it started with an announcement on the NetBeans website that "Oracle has proposed contributing the NetBeans IDE as a new open-source project within the Apache Incubator."

The announcement goes on to indicate the move is being made out of the goodness of Oracle's heart. "Oracle is relinquishing its control of  NetBeans and introducing it to Apache's widely accepted governance model, which will provide new opportunities to the NetBeans community and stimulate further code contributions."

This isn't a done deal yet. The proposal is currently being discussed on the Apache Incubator General mailing list, where it was posted on Tuesday, and was eligible to be put to a vote on Friday afternoon. The discussion on the list so far indicates the proposal will probably pass.

Oracle's claim that the project will likely be able to attract contributors from outside the company's ranks is probably true, but only to a degree. With an active user base of 1.5 million, there are undoubtedly many who would be willing to contribute, if not for Oracle's history of discouraging outside contributions to its open source projects. Under Apache's control, however, the project will in all likelihood be released under the Apache license, which allows for a project to be made proprietary, a stumbling block for some open source developers, but not for contributions directly from the enterprise.

The promise that Oracle will continue to be a major contributor to the project probably isn't true. A good guess would be that Oracle will basically abandon the project, continuing to make minor contributions, but only when it suits the company's interests. In reality, Oracle has little interest in open source projects, and is in many ways a holdout from the days when the proprietary model was the only game in town. It already has a proprietary Java IDE, JDeveloper, which it makes available as freeware.

Also don't be surprised if something similar doesn't happen to Java after Oracle exhausts its appeals in its Java based suit against Google. Last September, Paul Krill reported on InfoWorld that an unnamed "former high-ranking Java official" had written in an email that "Java has no interest to them [Oracle] anymore.... They have a winner-take-all mentality and they are not interested in collaborating. Proprietary product work will be done on WebLogic [Oracle's proprietary Java application server], and there'll be a proprietary microservices platform."

That story, which broke just weeks after news that Oracle was showing Java evangelists the door just before last year's JavaOne conference, seemed to have died down, but resurfaced in early June. Sean Gallagher at Ars Technica revealed that Oracle employees working on Java EE had said privately that they'd been ordered by their bosses to work on other things. "The absence of any official comment from Oracle has led some within the Java community to question Oracle's commitment not just to Java EE," he wrote, "but to the whole Java platform as well."

This isn't the first time, of course, that Oracle's performance on the open source projects it acquired from Sun has been less than stellar. In addition to abandoning OpenOffice, also to Apache, after developers revolted and forked the project to create LibreOffice, Oracle quit development of OpenSolaris and use of its MySQL database is thought to be losing ground to the forked drop-in replacement, MariaDB, which is now the default for most open source operating systems.

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