Future of Java 'Constrained by Oracle's Business Model,' Analysts Say

The future of Java under the stewardship of Oracle will be shaped by that company's business model, say Forrester Research analysts. Where Sun Microsystems used free Java to sell its hardware, Oracle, which is primarily a software company, is unlikely to see Java in a different light.

In their new report, "The Future of Java," primary authors John R. Rymer and Jeffrey S. Hammond point out that, since it acquired Sun Microsystems, Oracle has "methodically consolidated its control, herded the unruly Java community onto a single path, and started producing new releases of the core runtime after a four-year lapse."

They point to four developments that signal changes in Java's path, for which Oracle is largely responsible, including the approval for a road map for Java SE 7 and 8, which Sun failed to get done; Oracle's lawsuit against Google to halt use of its Dalvik virtual machine (VM), which action they see as likely to reduce independent innovation in the Java core (Java SE) "at a time when that technology needs a major refresh to keep up with developer requirements and platform competition"; a reinvigorated partnership with IBM and Apple, both of which committed to Oracle's OpenJDK; and the loss of the Apache Software Foundation's support for the Java Community Process.

Rymer and Hammond also list the key characteristics of what they call Oracle's "new world order" for Java. Among other things, the analysts expect Oracle to manage Java to serve the enterprise first, to push to make sure that OpenJDK will be the only Java runtime available under an open source license, to govern Java through an oligarchy or even a duopoly, to seek a "comeback" for Java EE (which has been losing ground to frameworks for years), and to look to the millions of mobile devices now running Java to generate more revenue.

The analysts write that Oracle's Java managers have told them that "the company has made a strategic commitment to Java for its multibillion-dollar middleware and applications businesses and thus has no interest in weakening Java."

"Many application development and delivery pros working in large enterprises share Oracle's view of the world," they add. "Clearly, though, there's a profound disagreement between the open source fans who are participants in the Java community and Oracle over how to manage Java's evolution."

The analysts view that disagreement as more than simple a failure of communication on Oracle's part, but two competing visions of Java's future: Oracle's view that Java must make money to justify its existence, versus the "open bazaar" vision that argues for wide-open opportunities to innovate on top of Java standards, reinterpret those standards and freely distribute the results.

The good news about Oracle's "new world order," the analysts argue, is that it represents no drastic shift in direction for enterprise customers. "In other words," they say, "no plan that will force customers through expensive application migrations. In many ways, Oracle's plan is to manage Java more effectively than Sun ever did."

The full report, which includes contributions from Mike Gilpin, Adam Knoll and Alissa Anderson, is for sale now on the Forrester Research Web site here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].