Nervousness in the Java Camp, and Oracle's Silence

Java In Crisis?


A storm is sweeping through the Java ecosystem.

A storm is sweeping through the Java ecosystem, stirring up old
debates and sparking new ones. You could be tempted to say that a
hot autumn is better than the years of stagnation, but the current
atmosphere is clearly showing signs of a programming language in
crisis. Throughout it all, Oracle – Sun’s successor and new steward
of Java – maintains a stony silence.

A quick chronology of events:

  1. January: Oracle announces it has completed its acquisition of
    Sun Microsystems, following a six month period where Java made
    little headway.
  2. August: The end of OpenSolaris.
  3. August: The lawsuit against Google over Android.
  4. September: JavaOne sees some technical announcements, but
    important issues regarding the future of Java remain
  5. October: Oracle cooperate with IBM on OpenJDK.
  6. October: Resignation of Doug Lea from the JCP EC.
  7. October: Apple announce they are deprecating Java.
  8. October: Nokia rejects Java in smartphones and Tablets.

1) Oracle is not a community-orientated company: it relies on
its internal process control. This is rigorous but efficient.
Without them, the company would not have been able to grow with
acquisitions, to more than 100,000 employees. Oracle’s
decision-making processes are not discussed in public. With this
business model, it is unclear how a credible integration of the
Java community will work. It is likely that a reorganisation of the
entire community process is currently being discussed behind closed
doors – without consulting that very community.

2) OpenSolaris is not OpenJDK. Let me say in advance: when it
comes to OpenJDK, Oracle has provided a credible and reliable
roadmap covering the next few years. However, the fate of
OpenSolaris has shown us how easy it is for Oracle to close a
project if it doesn’t fit their strategy. But, to be fair,
OpenSolaris and OpenJDK have one thing in common: there was
virtually no essential community contribution during their

3) As to the action Oracle have taken against alleged patent
infringement against Google and Android (the legal part of this
matter is currently being clarified by the lawyers) the strategic
implications have already been widely discussed. It is true that
Android may well be understood to be a fork of Java, and it is
quite clear today that Sun would also have sued Google, if they were capable
of doing so. It was only due to their standing in the market and
their dwindling financial resources, amongst other problems, that
Sun were forced to accept Android in silence. Oracle is now showing
its teeth – but the Java community would have preferred more
acrimony in constructive issues, rather than in the fight with a

4) JavaOne was Oracle’s premier as a ‘steward of Java,’ and the
Ellison Company certainly played their role as heralds of technical
innovation. But, if questioned on community participation (not
merely on a technical but also on a political-strategic level) the
answer was always “no comment.” This was not good enough for a
JavaOne which had nearly fifteen years of tradition to live up

5) Instead of involving the community, Oracle has decided to
form a duopoly with IBM. Again, this was an efficient decision, but
contrary to the idea of community participation.

6) Whether the brain drain in Java is a severe loss, or a
necessary generational change, only time will tell. But the fact
that Doug Lea, a recognised and neutral representative of the JCP,
has just submitted his resignation and thus expressed his clear
distrust of Oracle’s motives, has left the community shaken.

7) In the Release Notes of a small Mac OS Update, Apple
announced its standard operating system will not be shipped with a
preinstalled JDK. After Apple’s determined exclusion of Flash, Java
seems to be the next victim – and it is being made a victim by the
most successful and innovative computer manufacturer around today.
This shows that Apple is not dependent on being connected to the
vast Java ecosystem. On the other hand, one should not forget that
the JDK for Windows has always been developed by Sun (now Oracle)
and not Microsoft, and that the distribution of Java amongst the
majority of PCs has not been achieved through a partnership with
Microsoft, but through agreements with HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer,

8) Nokia is planning the future of its seminal product
categories – Smartphones and Tablets – without Java. The
programming models for Symbian and MeeGo apps will be based solely
on Trooltech’s Qt, according to the Nokia press release.

In this context, Oracle stands silent. Not only does it refuse
to talk to the community, it also doesn’t seem to talk to its
partners. The Oracle Technology Network (OTN) commented on Apple’s
rejection of Java via Twitter:

To people asking me if Oracle will supply a JVM for Mac OS X –
when I have the answer, I’ll share it.


We can be sure that Oracle is determined to keep Java on the
trail of success and return Java to the forefront of technical
innovation. But, we are also learning that Oracle has yet to arrive
in the communication culture of open source and Web 2.0. The
company is too busy analysing, with strategists and lawyers, the
impact of every small detail. Java users are growing increasingly
concerned about this lack of communication, but one thing is clear:
failure is not a typical action for Oracle. The company will
continue to work on establishing a control mechanism for Java which
is to their liking, and they will do this successfully. It will
pursue a path that has its own interests at heart, whilst
meticulously judging how much they can impose on the community.
Oracle is currently not really with the community, but it will not
march diametrically against the community.

Sebastian is Chief Content Officer at S&S Media. He has been actively involved with the IT industry for more than 10 years. As a journalist he is constantly in touch with thought leaders in software development and architecture. He is editor in chief of the German speaking Java Magazin and program chair of the JAX conferences since 2001. Prior to joining S&S Media, he studied philosophy and anthropology in Frankfurt, Germany.
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