IDC: Oracle Faces Host of Java Challenges

James Gosling's disclosure this week that he has left his position as CTO of Oracle's client software group again threw a spotlight on the database giant's stewardship of Java. According to analysts at IDC, keeping the "Father of Java" on the payroll is the least of Oracle's Java challenges.

"What is at stake with the Oracle ownership and control over Java is not whether Java will be invested in or evolved, which is a certainty," said Al Hilwa, program director in IDC's application development software group. "The question is whether Java can be evolved in a way that broadens its appeal and keeps it competitive and compelling against the steady onslaught of new languages, platform technologies and programming metaphors, and against Microsoft, owner of the powerful and well-managed .NET franchise, with its attendant tooling and rich ecosystem."

In a recently published IDC update, Hilwa, along with colleague's Maureen Fleming, program director in IDC's process automation and deployment group, and Melinda-Carol Ballou, program director in IDC's ALM and executive strategies group, scrutinize the Java and application platform-related information Oracle shared in its customer event on January 27, 2010, shortly after closing its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

In the IDC update, the analysts concluded that one of the key challenges facing Oracle is the fragmentation of Java runtimes and frameworks. They refer to a "pattern of complexity resulting from layering and forking the Java platform code" into the various editions, which has "simultaneously allowed it to adapt into new territories… while at the same time undermining its elegance and practicality by growing intolerably complex."

Another challenge: multiple integrated development environments (IDEs), Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) and Web servers. Oracle inherited the JRockit JVM when it acquired BEA, and it's the strategic JVM for the Oracle WebLogic Suite. Now it has the Sun's Hotspot JVM, which is more broadly adopted. The company now has three IDEs to deal with: its own JDeveloper, which it sees as strategic; Sun's NetBeans IDE, which has a devoted following; and the Eclipse IDE, which Oracle supports with the Oracle Enterprise Pack for Eclipse. And it also has to two Web application servers (WebLogic and Glassfish).

"People should keep in mind that Oracle has bet the company on Java," Hilwa said. "Oracle has anchored the architecture of its next-generation packaged applications (Oracle Fusion Applications) with its Java-based application and integration platform middleware (Oracle Fusion Middleware). I'd argue that Java is more important to them than it was to Sun. Java was almost like a side business to Sun. But the future success of Java is fundamental to the success of Oracle as a vendor of anything other than databases. People should be comforted by that fact."

"What remains to be seen," he added, "is how Oracle will implement processes that are acceptable to the community. I think Oracle wants to be seen as a good steward of Java, but also a strong steward, the kind that makes the hard decisions for the betterment of Java. My guess is that Oracle believes that Java needs to be more actively steered by its steward, and that the process could be managed more tightly."

This IDC update, "Oracle Sips Its Java: Examining Oracle's Road Map for Sun's Development Tools and Middleware Products," is available to IDC clients and on sale on the IDC Web site.

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].