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Java after 2.5 Years with Big O

It would be hard to exaggerate the collective apprehension that seized the Java community when Oracle announced its plans to acquire Sun Microsystems back in 2009, and with it, the stewardship of Java. That acquisition was completed in January 2010, and Java jocks everywhere held their breath.

And then nothing really bad happened.

In fact, if you ask IDC analyst Al Hilwa, Java has fared relatively well in the occasionally clumsy grasp of the database giant in Redwood Shores. In a published report, "Java: Two and a Half Years After the Acquisition," Hilwa argues that the acquisition has been mostly good for Java.

"The story here is one of fears not materializing and a company learning to do the right thing with open source," Hilwa told me in an e-mail.

In his report, Hilwa cites the long-awaited release of Java SE 7 last July as one piece of evidence that "Java made more significant advancements after the Sun acquisition than in the two and half years prior to the acquisition." He also cites Oracle's influence on "key vendors," including IBM, Apple, and SAP, who have joined the OpenJDK open source implementation of Java and "anointed OpenJDK as the reference implementation for the technology."

Perhaps one of the greatest fears at the time of the acquisition was that Oracle would attempt to rule the Java community with a heavy corporate hand without sufficient community input. But in fact, Hilwa writes, "The Java ecosystem is healthy and remains on a growing trajectory, with more programming languages than ever now hosted on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and with many new developers further bolstering the broader Java skills ecosystem as mobile Android developers."

But Big O has managed to make an enemy or two on its way up the slippery Steward-of-Java learning curve, perhaps most notably when it decided to continue refusing to provide the Apache Software Foundation with a license for a Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK), which the ASF needed to complete work on its Harmony implementation of Java SE. Sun was the original denier. The ASF resigned its seat on the Executive Committee (EC) of the Java Community Process (JCP) in November 2011, and the Harmony project was sent to the "Attic," where Apache projects go when they lose their committers.

Earlier that year, Oracle stepped on toes in the open-source Hudson community when it announced plans to migrate the Java-based continuous integration (CI) server project to its java.net infrastructure and trademark the Hudson name. That decision led Hudson community members to vote to rename the project "Jenkins" and move the code from java.net to GitHub. Oracle later donated Hudson, lock stock and source code, to the Eclipse Foundation.

But Hilwa argues that, despite a few wrong turns, Oracle has "navigated most decisions with a deliberate and decisive approach that should inspire the community's confidence in Java's long-term prospects."

Challenges remain for Oracle and the Java community, Hilwa observes, not the least of which is growing pressure on Java "from competing developer ecosystems, including the aggressively managed Microsoft platform ecosystem and the broader Web ecosystem with its diverse technologies and lightweight scripting languages and frameworks." He also believes that the success of Android, and its potential "evolution into client and server form factors," has put Java at risk of fragmentation into "multiple forks of loosely similar but competing technologies" 

"To remain relevant and attractive to new developers," Hilwa concludes, "Java must evolve on a faster schedule and effectively support the ongoing industry transformation into mobile, cloud, and social applications."

Posted by John K. Waters on August 21, 2012