Faint praise?

James Gosling: Oracle have done “surprisingly well” with Java

Lucy Carey

With the fourth anniversary of acquisition of the platform coming up, the Father of Java has a mixed bag of views on its stewards.

January 27th will be the fourth anniversary of Oracle’s takeover of Sun Microsystems. From the outset, many were dubious over the suitability of the former-software only company to handle Java. And, with subsequent allegations of lack of support for open source and poor handling of legacy issues continuing to crop up as regularly as NSA scare stories, there’s been no shortage of critique in the intervening years.

Among these indignant voices, one of the most significant has been that of  Java founder James Gosling (aka the Father of Java) – and he’s been at it again this week. Ahead of the upcoming milestone date, InfoWorld had Gosling deliver a school teacher style report of Oracle’s treatment of the software he created to date.

Following a brief stint at Oracle nemesis Google, Gosling has carved out a niche for himself as Chief Software Architect at Liquid Robotics. He remains an emphatic supporter of Java, and his appearances at JavaOne in recent years indicate a certain element of reconciliation between himself and his former bosses – albeit a grudging one – and that’s something something which is evident in the report.

Gosling’s harshest criticism is aimed at Oracle’s treatment of Solaris, which he flunks with an F-. Gosling writes that the Unix operating system is, “Totally dead. The license fees for Solaris are so high that it’s crazy to think of trying to use it, and the hardware offerings from Oracle make no sense. I’ve had to convert all my Solaris systems to Linux. I weep.”

On the flipside, Java fares relatively well in his opinion, with an optimistic B+, and a note that its new overlords have done “surprisingly well” with the program, aside from a few niggles with security, which he charitably appears to dismiss as “growing pains.”

MySQL is awarded a could-try much harder C, with the gloomy analysis that, while not completely dead in the water, it’s “vanishing fast, from the general discourse. Replaced by forks and NoSQL.”

Surprisingly, given Oracle’s recent suspension of the commercial support pipeline, GlassFish app server is awarded a relatively high B-. Gosling believes that though it’s moved forward, more could be done to support the hugely popular offering.

The company’s treatment of NetBeans IDE also comes under fire, earning them a second B-. Although this particular IDE is doing well with developers and, “leading the pack in terms of covering new APIs, great ratings and adopting,” unfortunately, it appears to have become woefully neglected.

In Gosling’s opinion, ‘mothership’ Oracle “doesn’t seem to value of the jewel they have,” and fails to understand the importance of tools to, “influence the developer community.”

This last point harks back to something which has apparently bothered Gosling from the outset of Oracle’s stewardship of Java. Although he has never overtly criticised former Sun colleagues who chose to stay in their roles, he has spoken out about the loss of agency among Java decision makers within the company to influence the direction of the platform.

Once the new  management moved in, Gosling has been quoted as saying that, suddenly, “he felt the hand of Larry Ellison in nearly all the decisions affecting Java.”

The sense that Oracle is fundamentally failing to understand the developers who tool with Java on a daily basis is palpable. Although the community around Java has continued to grow exponentially since 2010, this apparent cognitive dissonance continues to rankle with its founder.

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