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What's Next For Java?

When Oracle stunned the IT world last week and snapped up Sun Microsystems from right underneath IBM in its $7.4 billion deal, I posed the question: What will happen to the open source MySQL database platform? But the bigger question many developers are asking is: What impact will Oracle have on the future of Java?

As the new steward of the Java brand, will Oracle make it a proprietary platform like Microsoft's .NET or will it embrace and advance the existing Java Community Process (JCP) and assure that it does not become fractured? No one will know for sure until Oracle closes the deal. In the meantime, stakeholders are holding their collective breath.

Java is Sun's most valuable asset and Oracle could change its course on Java, according to a research note by Gartner analysts last week. That Sun owns the Java trademark, Oracle stands to retain influence over the JCP, which play a key role in the evolution of Java standards.

"Vendors were comfortable with Sun because it is a benevolent dictator over Java," said Gartner analyst Mark Driver, in an interview. "They influenced it but there was nothing in Sun's business model that was outwardly and obviously opposed to what Oracle or IBM, BEA or SAP was. All of a sudden with Oracle acquiring Java, you do have a case where Oracle and IBM [and others] compete much more heavily."

So the dichotomy lies in the fact that Oracle's key rivals are dependent on Java. If Oracle maintains and extends the JCP, all should be fine. "Despite the hype of write once run everywhere, Java has been remarkably successful in establishing a big binary compatible platform," Driver said. "Technically and politically, my enemy controls a technology that I depend upon. So if Oracle doesn't placate those concerns, IBM will become more aggressive in forging its own open source efforts."

For example, he said IBM could decide to focus on the Apache Harmony Project, a clone of Java. IBM hasn't done much with it, he pointed out, because there was no need to date. "If there is any issue with Oracle, either the perception or the reality, that it is manipulating Java for its individual benefit or does anything to unlevel the playing field, we could get fragmentation, we would lose a Java brand or it becomes another proprietary stack," Driver said. "It would be in Oracle's interest to open it up more."

It could do that by addressing one of the biggest complaints about the JCP: The fact that each working group has a specification lead typically represented by a single vendor that has substantial influence over where a specific piece of Java goes. "They may very well need to evolve the JCP to address those concerns, open it up even more," Driver said.

Wayne Citrin, CTO and founder of JNBridge, a supplier of software that links Java and .NET applications, agrees, saying there are issues with the way Java Specification Requests (JSRs) are handled. "JSRs that get implemented are kind of messy and not particularly coherent," said Citrin, who like Driver, is betting that Oracle won't look to hijack Java. "I think if Oracle were really heavy handed, people might just drift away from Java, but I think there's so much invested in it that that's unlikely to happen, and I think Oracle knows the lure of Java is that everyone is using it. It works both ways."

The larger question is what will Oracle's acquisition of Java will mean for Web services, asked Rich Wolski, founder and CTO of Eucalyptus Systems, a provider of open source software to enable hybrid public-private cloud-based services. The company, which announced its formation yesterday with $5.5 million in capital from Benchmark Capital and BV Capital., said its service leverages commodity Web services that are Java-based. "Java is so entrenched in the whole Web service arena that people really are anxious about how that's going to break," Wolski said. Ironically, he said in a worst case scenario, tying to Microsoft's .NET could be an alternative. "The .NET Web service infrastructure is very, very powerful, and we could easily port in that direction if Java no longer became viable. There's a question of how much of that we can use as part of our open source mission but technologically, it's very feasible."

Many believe there is no way Oracle will let Java splinter, such as Tony de la Lama, who was at Borland Software at the time it became the third licensee of the Java platform in 1995. "I 100 percent believe that Oracle is going to ensure that Java remains a viable and growing platform," said de la Lama, who recently joined Embarcadero Technologies (which acquired Borland's CodeGear tools business last year) as senior VP of R&D. "It has its own business interest to make sure that happens."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/30/2009 at 1:15 PM

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