Harmony: More Than Just a JVM

May 15, 2005


On the 6th of May, the Apache community took some major steps to further “open up” Java. On this date, a proposal was submitted to create Project Harmony. The proposal requested sponsorship/support for a project to build an open source J2SE implmentation. The proposed project would:

  1. Create a Compatible, independent implementation of J2SE 5 under the Apache License v2.
  2. Create a community-developed modular runtime (VM and class library) architecture to allow independent implementations to share runtime components, and allow independent innovation in runtime components.

This doesn’t sound like much. After all, there have been open source JVM’s (JSR’s) for quite some time. But this is a big deal. Under the terms of previous Java licenses, it was not possible to build a completely open J2SE environment. But the Sun Java 5 license no longer precludes such a development. Consequently, a proposal was submitted to create a completely, open source J2SE. But some of the really interesting pieces of the puzzle weren’t announced with the proposal. They include the following:

  • Apache is not looking to supplant Kafe or Classpath with Harmony. Rather, I think the project team membership is inidcative of widespread support for a community-developed J2SE implementation – including comprehensive class libraries! If anything, the community might well desire the integration of these currently divergent efforts. I know that I do!
  • IBM has an interesting “connection” to this project. As some of you may remember, IBM recently acquired Gluecode. So far, so good. And one of the principals at Gluecode is Geir Magnusson. Geir has been the project leader for the Apache Jakarta project since early 2004. He was also the lead noted on the Apache Harmony proposal. And Geir is now an excited IBM employee. While Gluecode was not purchased just to promote Harmony, there are very strong ties between Gluecode and Apache. Indeed, Gluecode has been one of the premier sponsors of the Apache Geronimo project (which would provide J2EE/EJB capabilities in an open source container).

I believe that with the acquisition of Gluecode, IBM is making a clear statement that its Java strategy will include a commodity investment (in Jakarta, Harmony, Geronimo and other Apache efforts) as well as its “boutique” WebSphere line. While the final outcome of this market differentiation is not yet clear, it is clear that IBM wants to put some pressure on the JBoss incursions into WebSphere territory. As for me, I will watch whether or not IBM also decides to invest in the Apache Portals projects.

Finally, I think it’s fascinating to note the comments from some of Sun’s Java luminaries. Graham Hamilton was positively ebullient about Harmony. Indeed, he wishes the Apache Foundation success on its efforts. And Simon Phipps warmly welcomed the Harmony project into existence. I wonder what Mr. Gosling thinks about these developments.




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