What next for IcedTea?
Six years after the launch of the IcedTea project, developer Andrew John Hughes feels that it's time to take stock. Questions were previously raised over the role of the project, which aims to make it possible to use OpenJDK using only free software build tools for GNU/Linux platforms, when OpenJDK 7 was released.
Red Hat launched IcedTea in summer 2007 with the intention of adapting OpenJDK for GNU/Linux distribution packagers. The latter, in contrast to the platforms targeted at the time by Sun, aim to use as many existing packages as possible and expect to get by using the tools available within the distribution, "often without network access". Within a month of the release of the first OpenJDK source code, Red Hat had, under the auspices of IcedTea, successfully implemented the necessary changes. The project has since developed into a home for sub-projects, such as replacing HotSpot with CACAO or JamVM and an ARM32 port, all of which have the objective of making OpenJDK as open as possible.
OpenJDK itself has since, however, seen many changes, so that there are now, for example, source code repositories (which, in the early tarball days, was not the case) and groups and projects working on problems autonomously. The IcedTea team is less satisfied with bug tracking in OpenJDK, and release management appears to be unreliable when it comes to security updates and openness. The process for working on OpenJDK as an open source version of the Java platform is also considered something of a deterrent, as developers have to sign a contributor agreement. This issue in particular can be viewed as enhancing IcedTea's appeal as an alternative way to integrate patches.
The work of the OpenJDK groups does, however, raise the question of whether the project is still needed in the future. Hughes notes that many patches from IcedTea have still not been merged into OpenJDK and that some subprojects do not have direct counterparts. He could, however, imagine working directly on the parent project if the problems with release management were to be resolved. He calls on the community to give its opinion on the future of the project.
At present, Hughes envisages IcedTea being preserved at least as a home for CACAO and JamVM. If the community were to decide that it wishes to continue as a patch provider, Hughes believes consideration should be given to making a fresh start with OpenJDK 8, into which it would only merge essential improvements, "rather than dragging along the baggage from 6 and 7".