Taking Java Around the Table

JavaOne brought them to San Francisco, and FTP brought them to the 2006 Java Technology Roundtable. Get a sampling of what industry thought leaders had to say about the state of Java.

The 2006 Java Technology Roundtable, a special event we host during the JavaOne conference in San Francisco, featured some familiar faces and some new ones among a distinguished panel of industry experts and thought leaders. Simon Phipps, chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems, once again served as panel moderator, leading the panel in a discussion of trends and prognostications for Java. The panel represented a broad cross section of experts from some of today's leading innovator organizations.

In addition to Phipps, the panel included Bob Blainey, distinguished engineer, IBM; Jon Bostrom, chief Java architect, Nokia; Tim Bray, director of Web technologies, Sun Microsystems; Larry Cable, chief architect of the WebLogic Platform, BEA; Dave Chappell, vice president and chief technology evangelist, Sonic Software; Frank Cohen, director of solutions engineering, RainingData; Ted Farrell, chief architect and vice president of tools and middleware, Oracle; Rob Gingell, CTO and executive vice president of products, Cassatt Corp.; Mike Milinkovich, executive director, Eclipse Foundation; Sam Pullara, chief architect, Borland Software; and Ari Zilka, founder and CEO, Terracotta.

The two-hour discussion covered several areas including multiple languages that are getting a lot of traction in certain markets, the complexity of heterogeneous environments, the issue of making Java "free" and "open" and the confusion that those terms can engender, and other higher-level topics around enterprise architecture, abstraction, and standards. Of course, the traditional roundtable offering of predictions for the coming year capped the event.

Here are some highlights from the first hour of the conversation. Look for expanded coverage coming soon on FTPOnline and in an upcoming issue of Java Pro magazine.

Phipps' first question to the group made reference to the revelation about open source Java that was part of JavaOne's opening keynote, where Jonathan Schwartz, president and CEO at Sun, and Rich Green, executive vice president of Sun software, together declared that it wasn't a question of whether, it was a question of how to do it. Phipps said that from discussions with JavaOne attendees he felt "there's a certain sense that we're about to see a second wave of Java." Citing the ease of development for that will create a resurgence of interest, the open sourcing of the code in the future that will open up new markets, and the availability on Linux that is going to "open up a torrent of new possibilities," Phipps asked the panel, "what do you think is the main highlight of the Java platform in the preceding year? What's the big deal that's starting the second wave, or is there not a second wave?"

"I absolutely believe that Java will see a large resurgence," Borland's Pullara said, tackling the question first. "I started at Gauntlet Systems last year, and we built almost entirely on open source software 90 projects for the dependencies when we got acquired." Pullara said they bonded to all the new Java EE 5 APIs: "...everything from JPA (EJB 3 at the time), JAX-WS, JAXB... The thing about these new technologies on the Java platform is that a lot were driven by what was perceived as a threat. Ruby on Rails, things like that, are perceived threats because of the mind share they garner, not necessarily market share. And the Java community has shown again and again that it can turn on a dime and adopt the good things that you see in other products and apply them very quickly and get them adopted in the marketplace. I think Java EE 5 will be adopted two or three times faster than the previous enterprise specs because of the ease of development."

To Pullara's comment about the Java community's ability to "turn on a dime," the Eclipse Foundation's Milinkovich said, "that's one hell of a big dime; that's more like trying to turn a super tanker. But I think getting POJO persistence into Java EE is something that is probably the big news for this year. I certainly agree with that. The only thing I would change slightly is that I think it was a long time coming."

"I would suggest that the JVM is really what enables people to turn on a dime," Terracotta's Zilka said, continuing the thread. "The community's a great community. No fault to anyone out there, and not trying to say anything but... At the end of the day the JVM can do amazing things—absolutely amazing things." After elaborating some more on his point, Zilka concluded, "I would add, though, that I don't agree that we have POJO persistence yet. I will go on record anytime, anywhere, and say 'we fell short this year.'"

BEA's Cable also responded to some of Pullara's comments, saying that he takes issue with Java EE 5 being a response to Ruby on Rails. "All the ease-of-use initiatives predate that technology by a good four or five years. There was a well-understood issue with the technology of separating out the declarative programming model. I was part of the core architecture team for J2EE 1.2, and we did some radical things like inventing containers and bringing our declarative programming model to the platform, but we realized there were some shortcomings with that."

Sun's Bray decided that playing devil's advocate could be useful because "everybody's expressing sunny optimism about Java EE 5," he said. "For an outside observer, it would be easy to explain all the things we're seeing going on around Java EE 5 as a response to the fact that Java has been getting its butt kicked by PHP in various substantial, interesting, and growing sectors of the market. And by the way, as of Q2 2006, it's still getting its butt kicked by PHP in interesting, growing sectors of the market.

"And Ruby on Rails is getting all the glamour and so on," Bray continued. "I see Rails more as a bullet into the heart of PHP than into the heart of Java. Personally, I hate PHP. It's awful stuff. It would really make me very happy if what EE is trying to do were successful in reclaiming part of that Web-tier, low-rent, quick-entry marketplace back. But it's not a sure thing."

"From what I've seen, the definition of the Java community has changed in that the JCP and the Java community are no longer synonymous with each other," said Sonic Software's Chappell. "Java has become more of an implementation detail of something you want to do. I know I'm maybe pointing out what many of you know already. I think we live in a very heterogeneous world, and we're going to continue to live in that kind of a world. You can have Ruby on Rails, PHP, and Java and all that working together.

"In the circles that I run, which are the same circles that many of you do, enterprise is just trying to make stuff work," said Chappell. "You've got to deal with all these platforms and technologies. I remember five or six years ago, coming to JavaOne was like going to Mecca, to find out what's the new technology that's going to save everything. It's just not like that anymore."

"I agree that absolute homogeneity neither should be a goal nor should it be expected," said Cassatt's Gingell. "In our business we're mostly serving people who are constructing SOA environments and so forth. The idea that there is a resurgence in a tool like Java that would help people accelerate would be welcome to us because we basically see that the SOA world, while holding a lot of promise, proceeds very slowly. I think it's fair to say that one factor in why it proceeds slowly is this large collection of things you've got to learn to do it. I don't think seeking one ought to be an answer, but seeking fewer might help it in terms of how much an organization has to learn."