Six feet under

RIP SE 6: A tribute to Java’s longest-serving edition

Elliot Bentley
java-se-6

As Oracle ends public support for Java SE 6, we reflect on the legacy of the only version to bridge the Sun-Oracle eras.

So, farewell then Java SE 6.  As of last Monday – 18th
February 2013 – Java SE 6 has officially passed its EOL (end of
life) date, meaning that Oracle will no longer provide free
security patches.

While mostly serving as a reminder for those yet to upgrade, the
EOL date is also an excuse for new releases of third-party software
to drop support for SE 6. It’s a good time then to reflect on one
of Java’s most important versions – not least because it served to
bridge the Sun and Oracle periods.

When it was first released in December 2006, Java SE 6 was hardly a
revelatory upgrade: bringing with it support for scripting
languages, JAX-WS and Java Compiler APIs and, for desktop users,
the ability to add a menu to the Windows system tray. Its lifespan
was artificially extended beyond previous releases when Oracle’s
acquisition
led to multiple delays
, and it wasn’t until July 2011 that Java
SE 7 finally supplanted it.

The EOL date for SE 6 was originally to be July 2012, but early
last year was extended to November, and then extended again in
September into 2013. “JDK 6 was the default JDK for over 5 years,
and so it seems fair that it have a longer publicly available
support time-frame than past major releases,” explained Henrik
Stahl, Senior Director of Product Management.

Moving on

Despite a few
initial issues
, Java 7 adoption is picking up. In September,
cloud hosting service Jelastic reported
that Java 7 was being used by 79% of their customers – though this
figure is likely to be considerably lower among Java users not
using ‘the cloud’.

Eventually, though, it may be more costly to continue using SE 6
than to upgrade: with the EOL date passed, many major software such
as
JIRA
and Jetty
are moving to drop support for SE 6, and Windows users are already
finding their runtime environment auto-updated
to Java 7
by recent security patches.

While Java is mostly backwards-compatible, there will always be

a few SDK incompatibilities
and
upgrade issues
. Oracle has a comprehensive guide for those
thinking of
moving to Java 7
, and many IDEs such as Netbeans provide

migration tools
.

However, enterprises still clinging to Java 6 (and willing to cough
up for commercial support) can receive security updates until
December 2016.

With Java SE 8 out by the end of the year (hopefully),
it appears that the release cycle is finally becoming regular
again. However, Oracle is still conscious of its customers’
reluctance to upgrade: future versions will be EOL’d only if a new
version has been out for a year and the releases themselves are at
least three years old.

Java SE 6 may have outlived its welcome, but it was an oasis of
calm among the chaos of Oracle’s acquisition and Java 7’s
development. There may never be another version quite as
notable.

Photo by photon_de.

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