Java Founder Gosling Quits Oracle

James Gosling, the father of the Java programming language, has left his position at Oracle Corporation, he revealed on Friday in a blog posting. Gosling says he actually quit the company on April 2.

"Yes, indeed, the rumors are true," Gosling wrote, adding, "As to why I left, it's difficult to answer: Just about anything I could say that would be accurate and honest would do more harm than good."

A former Fellow at Sun Microsystems and chief technology officer of Sun's developer product group, Gosling briefly served as CTO of Oracle's client software group. He was one of the highest profile former Sun employees to leave Oracle after the $7.5 billion acquisition was completed in January. He joins CEO Jonathan Schwartz, chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy, director of Web technologies Tim Bray and open source evangelist Simon Phipps in departing.

Opinions about the effect of Gosling's departure vary, but few were surprised to learn about his decision. The cultures of the two companies were so different, that it was almost expected. On April 10, Tim Bray twittered: "Astounded that Gosling held on so long."

"Oracle is a much more buttoned-up, on-message company, where everyone sings from the same hymn book," observed IDC analyst Al Hilwa. "It is a hard-core sales organization and consistency of message is seen as key to driving sales. Sun, on the other hand, had been a free-wheeling, semi-academic culture. A scientist like Gosling may have noticed the differences quite quickly, and probably did not want to stick to anybody else's script."

Oracle has a much more "commerce-driven" culture, said RedMonk analyst Michael Coté, which operates from a much more "in-the-here-and-now approach."

"Sun kept its eyes on tomorrow much more than today," he said, "cultivating teams of people who would evolve technologies that would help figure out future products and innovation. That type of environment is much better for exploration-minded technologists than the here-and-now, make-the-sale focus that most tech companies have today."

Forrester analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond believes that Gosling's departure will have a significant symbolic effect, but a less immediate practical impact.

"Let's face it," Hammond said, "Java is the most popular programming language in enterprise IT and that won't change overnight. But I think the symbolic question is important. Has Java ‘jumped the shark' now that Oracle owns it? Is it closer to COBOL than it is to PHP or Ruby? Will new developers continue to want to use it or will they increasingly turn to other languages over the next decade?"

Ovum senior analyst Tony Baer agrees.

"In recent years Gosling has served more as high priest, and has not always kept current with recent developments in Java as a commercial platform," he said. "Had Sun remained independent, Gosling would have likely departed at some point; the transition to Oracle, which, unlike Sun, has a thoroughly commercial, not engineering-driven culture, simply hastened events. Unlike Sun, Oracle is seeking to be the merchant, not the church of Java, and as such, there is no longer need for high clerics."

Java has long moved past any real dependence on any single individual, Hilwa added, so Gosling's move is unlikely to do material harm to the future of Java. But Oracle still lost a rock star that could have been a valuable asset in its relations with the Java community.

"Oracle could have used someone like Gosling as a respect technical spokesperson who can keep developers in the fold," Hilwa said. "So Gosling's departure may be seen as symbolic, but it really just means that Oracle has to work extra hard to keep the anxiety level about the future of Java in check. In reality, there is not much need to worry because Java's continued success is crucial to Oracle, more so even than for Sun before it."

Gosling did not disclose his plans for the future, and he was unreachable by phone. In his blog, he wrote: "The hardest part is no longer being with all the great people I've had the privilege to work with over the years. I don't know what I'm going to do next, other than take some time off before I start job hunting."

At press time, Oracle had no comment on the resignation.

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].