That was the year that was

Java in 2013: A year in review

Elliot Bentley

Is the past year best forgotten for Oracle? We take a look at the highs and lows of the Javasphere over the past 12 months.

Well 2013 went by fast didn’t it? And it’s certainly brought its fair share of ups and downs for the world of Java. This time last year, we were anticipating the imminent arrival of Java 8. But early on in 2013, it became clear that development was lagging way behind schedule, and now twelve months on, we find ourselves experiencing deja vu.

If there’s an overall theme to this year, it’s the demonstration of the power that the Java developer community wields. The LJC were voted back onto the JCP Executive Committee for the second year running, and public outcry helped save Vert.x from IP hell. Even Oracle felt the heat under the pressure of a 17,000-strong petition. With countless vocal, creative, and dedicated users around the world supporting the platform, we’re excited to see what 2014 has in store.


The year began with a controversy that almost sunk one of the JVM’s most exciting new prospects, Vert.x. When creator Tim Fox moved to Red Hat, his ex-employer VMware allegedly claimed ownership of its IP – leading Fox to write a public message on the mailing list. Thankfully, the entire debacle was solved within a fortnight, with Vert.x placed in the trusty hands of the Eclipse Foundation. Also that month: “GitHub of packages” Bintray opened its doors, and chip manufacturer Qualcomm’s announcement of a Java-powered ‘Internet of Everything’ was overshadowed by a truly insane CES keynote.


The Ask Toolbar, bundled with Java’s Windows installer, has never been popular, but it was in February that the community banded together to sign a petition against the practice. Almost a year later, it stands at 17,000 signatures, and has resulted in (almost) zero change to the installer’s sneaky tactics. As Java SE 6 finally passed its Oracle-designated extended end-of-life date, it was down to Red Hat to pick up the reins of OJDK 6. And looking to the future, Java 8 began to slip worryingly behind schedule as Project Lambda proved more time-consuming than previously anticipated.


Alongside the restarting of its epic (and still rumbling on) legal battle with Oracle, the year hasn’t been too kind to Google’s Android team. In March, the mobile OS’s founder Andy Rubin stepped down (and later in the year, Android open source lead Jean-Baptiste Quéru resigned in a huff). It wasn’t all negative, though. The developers of popular open source application server Jetty released version 9 with support for both WebSockets and SPDY, while Red Hat rather generously made commercial builds of JBoss AS freely available.


The year’s high-profile applet vulnerabilities, until now merely embarrassing, had a real effect on regular Java users in April. Patching the security issues had “inevitably taken engineers away from working on Java 8”, explained Mark Reinhold, and as a result Java 8 was delayed once again. The next version of Java is now planned to arrive on 3 March 2014. Meanwhile, after months of indecision, Red Hat finally announced the crowdsourced new name for JBoss AS: WildFly.


In a big boost to JetBrains, Google unveiled Android Studio, an IDE based on JetBrains’ commercial editor IntelliJ IDEA with additional new features like live previews and integration with Google services. However, it was a big blow for Eclipse, which used to come bundled with the Android SDK and continues to suffer from a public perception of being slow and ugly. One positive bit of news came out of the previous month’s Java 8 delay: Statically-linked JNI libraries were to be included at the last minute thanks to the shifted deadlines. These could be the magic ingredient necessary to finally get a full JVM on iOS.


One of the big stories of 2013 has been the rise of MariaDB, a drop-in fork of MySQL led by the creator of MySQL itself. Google are moving some of their MySQL databases to MariaDB, and in June, Red Hat floated the idea of shipping MariaDB as the default database in their Linux distribution (which finally appears to be coming true). Speaking of data – Yahoo open-sourced Storm-YARN, which integrates Hadoop and real-time data processing engine Storm.


Perhaps everyone was on holiday throughout July, as very little of note took place. Vert.x, having struggled through January’s disputes, made it to version 2.0; a Docker-powered Heroku clone got crowdfunded; and Rod Johnson controversially told the Scala community that it needed to evolve.


For NoSQL database MongoDB, August was a watershed month. In DB-Engine’s rankings – calculated by a combination of activity on Google and job advert sites – it overtook Microsoft Access, and parent company 10gen rebranded itself as MongoDB, Inc. After years of development (and having been pushed back from Java 7 to 8 to 9), Project Jigsaw – the drive for modularisation in Java – was restarted, with a simplified “take two” hoped to provide an “opportunity to question earlier design decisions and generally clean things up”.


The theme of this year’s JavaOne conference was of Java returning to its lightweight hardware roots, with Internet of Things hype swelling to fever pitch. The only real surprise from Oracle was the DukePad, a DIY tablet running JavaFX. However, the startups in attendance had exciting news of their own: TomEE creator David Blevins unveiled Tomitribe, his new OSS-centric startup, and Hazelcast scored a coup with the addition of Rod Johnson to its board.


This month was all about the looming threat of cloud consolidation. Microsoft made a serious step forward by integrating Windows Azure into its volume licensing scheme and Windows Server line, as well as launching a section of Azure aimed specifically at the US government. This was, of course, blown out the water by AWS’ first billion-dollar quarter. Oracle proved their commitment to making client-side Java more secure with a blockbuster software update plugging 51 vulnerabilities – but it clearly wasn’t enough for Firefox developers, who controversially made Java click-to-play.


The Java developer community was left shocked as Oracle pulled commercial support for GlassFish, reducing it to – in the words of Markus Eisele – a “toy product”. Oracle evangelists were quick to defend the decision, but Arun Gupta (who, until his move to Red Hat, had been a major evangelist of GlassFish) said that JBoss “definitely emerges as the leader in this space”. Elsewhere, two major new languages reached maturity – Google’s JavaScript killer Dart and Red Hat’s alternative JVM language Ceylon – officially christened as version 1.0.


As the industry wound down for the year, December was relatively quiet. It was a good time to reflect on the success of Google’s other (and frankly far more successful) language, Go. Version 1.2 was the victory lap after twelve months of frothing blog posts and growing mainstream interest, as well as occasional real-world use. As for the future: Come back tomorrow to hear some of the industry’s brightest minds’ thoughts on what 2014 will bring.
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