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

ElliotBentley
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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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