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Scary Times in Java Land?: The Apple Mess, Impact on Eclipse, JCP's Future, More

Halloween may have passed, but some of last week's Java news is still casting a creepy pall on the Java landscape. Last week I reported on Apple's decision to deprecate Java on Mac OS X and Doug Lea's departure from the JCP's Executive Committee, but as my conversations with analyst and industry watchers continued, and I thought the additional insights were worth sharing.

Forrester Research Senior Analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond, for example, reminded me that the rules for the upcoming Mac App Store reject deprecated or "optionally installed technologies."

"What we're seeing here is the emergence of the application store as the new strategic control point for platforms," Hammond said. "From my perspective, Apple's decision is an extension of its low-intensity warfare against the Java platform, the Flash platform, and everything else that allows people to do cross-platform work in their ecosystem."

Which made me wonder if maybe a zombifying virus had gotten loose in Cupertino and caused Apple management to go crazy. The numbers vary from analyst firm to analyst firm, but the basic picture of the developer world going forward includes a steadily expanding community of Java jocks for around a decade before we even see a plateau. And I know a bunch of developers who consider the Mac to be a great machine to code on. How can Apple just dismiss so many Java-loving codederos?

"Here's your choice as a developer," he said. "You can write in Java as you've always done and have it ported to the Mac through third-party efforts, or you can write in Objective C and go directly to the consumer and make more money. Which would you chose?"

Ovum Senior Analyst Tony Baer's assessment was no more comforting. "It's all about making the Mac more iOS like," Baer said. "Jobs may talk up an HTML5 storm, but what he's really saying is: 'Develop natively for the Apple platform.' Java is not part that plan.'

Baer sees Doug Lea's departure from the JCP's Executive Committee as "the natural attrition that comes in the wake of any acquisition." You know, like when the seething mass of sentient jelly from outer space devours you and then sloughs off the bones.

"But there are other things at play here, too," he said. "It's clear that Oracle is taking a more active commercial role in managing the Java platform. You can see it in the Google litigation. And they've persuaded IBM to join rather than fight, and so there will be various as-yet-to-be-specified 'reforms' to the process. But Oracle will make the JCP more corporate."

In fact, Baer suggests that the JCP may become essentially irrelevant to the evolution of Java.

"The core issue is that Java itself has been something of a mongrel," he said, " not quite open source, not quite proprietary, in spite of the open source dalliances of the [former Sun Microsystems CEO] Jonathan Schwartz years. Sun's position was adequate when Microsoft was perceived as the evil empire, but rapidly grew irrelevant as other centers of power (what former Burton analyst Richard Monson-Haefel called the "Rebel Frameworks") emerged over the past six/seven years in response to impatience with Sun's more-equal-than-others approach and the rigidity of the JCP process. As innovation began happening elsewhere, the JCP grew less relevant. It's interesting that their focus has shifted from Java EE (bypassed by Spring) to Java SE, while Java ME has largely been stalled on arrival."

Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich confessed to being bewildered (if not bewitched) by the Apple decision to deprecate Java on the Mac OS X, but he had no doubt about the future of the JCP.

"Look, the JCP is here to say," he said. "Doug [Lea] wasn't wrong to leave, but his reasons for leaving were based on faulty assumptions. I think Doug and many others are conflating an effective standards organization with a vendor-neutral standards organization. The JCP was never vendor neutral. The only thing that's changed since Oracle took over is that they've made it a little bit clearer that they're in charge. Anyone who thought Sun wasn't in charge was laboring under a delusion. Nothing has changed fundamentally at the JCP, and it now has an opportunity to return to being effective, where it certainly has not been for the past three years."

He also reminded me that both the fate the JCP and Apple's decision to deprecate Java will affect more than just Java jocks.

"The number one IDE for PHP developers is Eclipse," he said. "Android developers use Eclipse as their default set of Android tools. The tools you get from Adobe for building Flash applications are built on Eclipse. And despite the back and forth between Apple and Adobe around Flash on the Mac and various Apple devices, there are an enormous number of graphic designers out there who use the Mac with Flash as their development platform. So this stuff has implications that ripple beyond just the Java development tools market."

In other words, lots of people are going to be haunted by this decision.

Milinkovich has more to say in his latest posting to the "Life at Eclipse" blog, "Take a Deep Breath, Then Vote for Eclipse: Our View on the JCP."

Milinkovich's colleague, Ian Skerrett, offers a more be-fanged reaction to recent developments in the Java space in his blog post: "Dear Oracle, Get a Clue." Skerrett is the usually soft-spoken Director of Marketing for the Eclipse Foundation, but I think the moon was full when he penned this missive, because he takes a bite out of Oracle here. But don't be put off by his growling. He makes a good point.

And be sure to catch Baer's excellent blog post on the Oracle-IBM partnership on OpenJDK on the OnStrategies Perspectives page.

Posted by John K. Waters on November 1, 2010