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Oracle Speaks Out on Java, One Year Later...Sort Of

On Tuesday, a bit more than a year after Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, and with it the stewardship of Java, the database giant invited the public to a webcast that promised to provide a "state of the union address" on Java under Oracle's watch. But the company's fireside chat failed to address the hottest topics sparked during its first 12 months in that role.

During the webcast, dubbed "Java and Oracle, One Year Later," Justine Kestelyn, director of the Oracle Technology Network, tossed softball questions to Ajay Patel, vice president of product development for Oracle's application grid products group.

Patel emphasized that Oracle's goal is to drive Java adoption, make the platform more competitive, make it more relevant and make it more modular. "Things got stalled over the past couple of years," he said. They "came to a grinding halt… The community has been waiting to move the platform forward." The OpenJDK is the perfect way to do that, he insisted

Patel also talked about the decision to appoint Bruno F. Souza, former president of Brazilian Java user group, SouJava, to the Executive Committee of the Java Community Process. User groups are the "heart and soul" of the Java community, Patel declared, adding, "This is a community drive effort, not just an Oracle driven effort."

"The Java community has many hearts and souls, of course," observed Michael Coté, industry analyst at RedMonk. "But if you were to pick one [type of] community, it'd be hard to go wrong with user groups. Java user groups may not be as powerful as they used to, at least in the U.S., but they're still a significant part of the community. The proof? User groups are pretty much volunteer-led. For some there are incentives to get involved -- free stuff, networking, fame, etc. -- but you can look at the participation as driven mostly by the user group members passion."

But there was no mention of the reason for the vacancy Souza is filling: namely, the Apache Software Foundation's (ASF) decision to quit the JCP EC in December. The non-profit organization behind more than 100 open-source projects had been threatening to leave the organization for some time. When the JCP executive committee voted to approve Java SE 7, which the ASF opposed, the group walked.

Nor was there any discussion of the dispute that lead to the ASF's decision: Oracle's refusal to provide the ASF with a test compatibility kit (TCK) license for its own Java SE implementation, Project Harmony. Without the TCK, Harmony cannot be tested and certified against the Java standard.

Of the Web cast, Mark Driver, research director at the Gartner Group, said: "This was essentially a little cheerleading session...We learned nothing we didn't already know, and they managed to avoid talking about the elephants standing right next to them."

Driver found Patel's comment that Oracle will "drive the pace of innovation" in the Java community telling: "You can't do that and have an open community," he said. "I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. When you have a stalemate, nothing gets done. At some point, if you can't come to a compromise, someone has got to lose. But you can't then maintain that it's just as open as it was before. It's just not."

"To the traditional enterprise audience, that message is going to be just fine," Driver added. "There are an awful lot of customers out there, worldwide, who have invested billions of dollars in Java technology. All they really care about is running their businesses. And that's the traditional Oracle customer. That's who they listen to, and what their business is built on."

To an audience question about how Oracle is planning to fill the other open seats on the JCP, Patel said that the company was interested in adding "an end-user perspective." He said that Oracle had talked to large banks and telcos about joining the JCP EC. "We want to find someone who represents a user..." he said. "We want to mix it up a little bit..." and "bring the customers in."

"That makes perfect sense if you want to promote the use of established 'users,'" said Coté. "Big enterprises certainly use Java and depend on many existing applications (off the shelf and custom) that are built on Java. I'd suggest that Oracle probably knows how much revenue is generated by such big customers and, thus, how important they are to the financial side of the Java world. It's actually a good idea to give big spending users like that a seat at the table."

But the community also needs the important innovations from members with "shallow pockets," Coté added.

"So called 'community' people like to complain about moneyed interests invading the community, as big banks and telcos aren't part of that community. But I think what they're really worried about is… money talking instead of useful, innovative ideas winning out, no matter how expensively dressed those ideas are. As long as board members' decisions make sure to (a.) keep existing Java applications stable and working, and, (b.) advance the platform with new innovations as fast as possible, they'll be doing a good job. That's how I'd rate any member, threadbare or sartorially sophisticated."

Patel also made no mention ofOracle's lawsuit against Google alleging patent and copyright infringements when it comes to Android. But he did spend a lot of time talking about the Glassfish app server, which Oracle now sees as the reference implementation for Java EE. He said that the company had seen increased downloads of both Glassfish and the NetBeans IDE.

And apparently lots of people have been calling for a separate JavaOne conference. Patel said that it was "the number one conversation in the [Oracle] executive offices."

"People want one marque JavaOne event," he said, "like the one in SF."

"JavaOne used to be the event for Java developers," Coté said, "and a significant one for the development world in general. Folding it into Oracle OpenWorld sends the wrong signal (Oracle is more important than Java: it wasn't SunOne) and probably makes some Java people not want to attend. The Java world is much bigger than the Oracle world and it definitely deserves its own conference, if only in name."

Posted by John K. Waters on February 15, 2011