Last year, during an interview at the reClosure virtual conference, posted on YouTube, James Gosling, the father of the Java programming language, said: “Being a project in Oracle Labs is not a place that’s ever going to end happily.”
He was not talking about Java, but a language called Fortress, which had been developed by Sun Microsystems. Today, organisations using Java face a licence fee hike, after Oracle introduced changes to Java SE subscription pricing.
In a new report looking at the licence change, analyst Gartner observed that among its client interaction, Oracle appears to be actively targeting organisations — both existing Oracle customers and those with no Oracle products — on Java compliance. Gartner reported that Oracle is using its global Java licensing team to enforce compliance.
Oracle acquired Sun Microsystem in 2010. Along with hardware, which built out Oracle’s database server hardware business, it also acquired Java, arguably the world’s most popular programming language. Java was developed as a way to simplify programming compared to languages like C, and offered developers the ability to write once, run anywhere, thanks to a set of libraries and a runtime environment that was made available across many operating systems and hardware platforms. This cemented its popularity. Java then grew phenomenally with the advent of the three-tier application architecture – client, server and business logic – built around the deployment of Java enterprise application servers.
Java has been free to use for non-commercial purposes, but anyone running Java in an enterprise is required to pay a licence fee. The Log4j vulnerability, which impacted the popular Apache monitoring tool, shows just how extensively Java is deployed across the internet.
The owner of the intellectual property has a right to charge for its use. But it is an on-going fee and will never go away so long as Java is still being deployed across the business.
Clearly businesses running Java must continue to pay the licence fee. But, what the changes to Java SE shows, is that we need to reassess the longevity of software architectures and our ability to migrate to alternative platforms.
According to Per Ploug, open source lead at Spotify, open source offers enterprises this flexibility. If it did not exist, the big technology firms would monopolise technology to serve particular niches of customers. But while it is free, open source does not have a service level agreement. It only exists thanks to an army of dedicated maintainers, who give up their free time to develop and support open source code. As enterprise users, we must be prepared to recognise and reward that effort, just as we have had to recognise Oracle’s ownership of Java.