The latest version of the Java Community Process -- JCP 2.6 -- is in community review and awaits your opinion.
Onno Kluyt, director of the Java Community Process Program Management Office, Sun Microsystems, explains. " JCP 2.5, a two-year project that took effect near the end of 2002, made many changes to the legal underpinnings of the JCP, especially in regards to open-source agreements. Because of its scope, however, it didn't focus on the daily life of spec leads and expert groups."
The two Executive Committees (ECs) agreed that more changes were needed, particularly in the way information is distributed and expert group decisions are made during the Java Specification Request (JSR) process. As a result, JSR 215 -- which will define JCP 2.6 and is targeted for completion near the end of 2003 -- focuses primarily on the issues of JSR process transparency and efficiency, especially when it comes to spec leads and overall community participation.
"At the highest level, JSR 215 is designed to encourage participation by the JCP community. We're making the JSR process more visible and available to members, and improving the way spec leads manage input and community communications through openness," says Kluyt. "JCP 2.6 will give the spec leads more options for flexibility."
You can take a look at the latest update of the nine specific changes in review for JCP 2.6 on the JSR 215 page.
In February 2003, Aaron Williams (JCP executive relations manager and spec lead on JSR 215) and his JCP expert group formulated the first version of the specific changes to be made. Their goals: make each JSR's work-in-progress easier to access, and offer more options for the community to participate.
"The status of each JSR should be more transparent to the community," says Williams. "It should be easier to tell when an expert group is working on their JSR and when it is dormant. That's what we call process transparency, and JCP 2.6 gives a lot of new options to the expert group, helping them work the way that's best for their individual needs, while keeping the community informed of their decisions."
For example, many spec leads would like to offer JSR drafts to the community, and to the general public, for review at multiple stages of development. "Until now, we haven't encouraged spec leads to take advantage of this transparency, or explained to them how to go about it," says Williams. "Now we will."
At the beginning of the JSR process, spec leads will develop an operations plan for making information available to the public. Further, the former Community Review -- with its bundled ballot -- is now being replaced with a much more open Early Draft Review, available to the public. The final ballot won't occur until after the second review period, called the Public Review Ballot.
Williams explains, "In the past, spec leads have tried to really get their JSRs tight and rock-solid before they approach the EC review, for fear of it being voted down. But that tended to keep the public from being able to recommend modifications. Too much work was already invested. This change will allow spec leads to get more community feedback at a much earlier stage."
In similar ways, JCP 2.6 encourages more community members to be involved in the JSR process. Offering a relatively quick review period -- hopefully several months earlier than the current average -- will open the opportunities for broader public participation.
Williams' expert group also wanted to encourage a more diverse range of spec leads and expert group members for the future. "If you look at who's involved in leading JSRs, it's weighted very heavily towards the larger companies," he says. "Being a spec lead is a daunting challenge, and the Technical Compatibility Kit (TCK) associated with a JSR is quite complex -- often seen as a sort of black art."
To simplify the challenge, JCP 2.6 will clarify the requirements of the TCK and improve communications between spec leads and the ECs -- and include an early binary review of the TCK. It will also provide new information about the process of being a spec lead, to help potential candidates understand what is required and how to work through the milestones.
"There are many more changes planned in JSR 215, including new roles for liaisons and observers, and there are still a lot of open issues, on which we want the community's input. Currently in Community Review until September 8, 2003, JSR 215 is available to anyone with an Internet connection," says Williams. "I encourage everyone to go to the JSR 215 web page and download the documents. We're being aggressive about bringing clarification and transparency to the process because we don't want anyone in the community to feel like their voice isn't being heard."
Jim Van Peursem, distinguished member of technical staff at Motorola, and a member of the Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME) EC agrees. "Solutions for inclusion, clarification, and transparency will be a big help for spec leads, expert groups, and the community in general," he says.
In addition to being part of the J2ME EC, Van Peursem has also faced many of the typical problems of a spec lead. He was the spec lead on JSR 118, the Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) 2.0 specification, as well as a member of the original MIDP 1.0 specification, JSR 37.
Van Peursem explains that between MIDP 1.0 and MIDP 2.0, the number of companies that wanted to participate grew from 23 to 60, represented by 122 individuals. "I had to decide which was worse: include everyone and have a free-for-all, or limit the participants to a small core and disappoint the overall market as a result," says Van Peursem. "I decided that there were so many diverse aspects of MIDP 2.0 that were important to the market that inclusion was the way to go. It was a lot of work, and it's finished, but a lot of the provisions of JCP 2.6 -- such as the observer status and liaison roles -- would have made it easier."
He notes that "not all -- but most -- expert groups want to get feedback from a large body of community reviewers to make sure they're on track. Even though every comment must be addressed, the majority of expert groups consider this an important step in the process, rather than just a formality. Nothing is worse than producing a quick solution that's wrong."
Also, the new JCP 2.6 observer status is a way for community members to see into an expert group's activities. "Even though observers won't be able to send in design proposals or have two-way real-time communication, they can stay on top of the group's progress at each stage -- much more so than ever before," says Van Peursem.
David Nuescheler (chief technology officer with Day Software, Inc., of Switzerland, a content management and virtual repository vendor), is the spec lead on JSR 170, Content Repository for Java Technology API. Nuescheler's group has been working for a year to standardize the content repository market.
"This is my first JSR as a spec lead, and I have a rather large expert group -- 50 people." But, he explains, the open-source community in the content repository market is much larger, with many companies not represented on the expert group. "The changes represented in JCP 2.6 will allow us to open up the JSR review at an earlier stage, giving this extended community access to expert group information much earlier," says Nuescheler.
At the same time, he's glad JCP 2.6 will give the expert group the flexibility of deciding on the best time in the process to release information. "Sometimes it might be better to offer a review with a not-so-polished specification and a lot of open issues to discuss. Other times, depending on the style of the expert group and the topic, it might be better to wait until more of the open issues have been resolved before opening it up to the public. It's good to have a choice."
In Nuescheler's case, earlier is better. "We want to be open with information as early as possible, in order to get everybody's input, so we would like to upgrade to JCP 2.6 and benefit from that option."
He predicts that addressing the additional input will make the overall process longer, but it will also increase vendor acceptance of the specification. "If we can catch mistakes early in the process, it will help improve the overall quality," he says.
If you've ever had the urge to get involved as a JCP community member, expert group observer, or participant, or even wanted to run your own expert group as the spec lead, there has never been a better time to join in. The JCP wants your opinions and ideas, and now it's formalizing ways to make it easier for you to participate.
You can start by commenting on JSR 215 during the open Community Review, before September 8, 2003. Your input will help shape the final version, due near the end of 2003.