Despite fears that Oracle would not be the ideal shepherd for Java, the platform has benefited since Oracle took over in early 2010, says IDC analyst Al Hilwa. Such fears led Java founder James Gosling to depart Oracle not long after the company transitioned from Sun. "Many of the fears of the broader Java community have not materialized," said Hilwa. "Oracle has navigated most decisions with a deliberate and decisive approach that should inspire the community's confidence in Java's long-term prospects."
As accomplishments, Hilwa cites Oracle's shipping Java SE (Standard Edition) 7 last year, providing road maps for Java SE 8 and Java Enterprise Edition 7, and maintaining a healthy ecosystem, with more languages than ever now hosted on the Java Virtual Machine. Oracle also brought IBM, Apple, and SAP into the open source OpenJDK Java process.
Hilwa also cites Oracle's moving "decisively" to settle the long-running dispute over the approval of Apache's Harmony implementation, albeit not in Apache's favor. Apache, which has wanted restrictions removed on Harmony's usage on mobile devices, resigned its seat on the Java Community Process Java EE/SE executive committee in 2010 as a result. "The difference is that Sun was much more passive-aggressive about handling such community issues, letting them drag and not making hard decisions," Hilwa says. Oracle at least decides, so ambiguity and confusion don't linger.
"Many members of the Java community were concerned that the more software-focused Oracle, which was known for its aggressive tactics with its partners and customers, might run Java in a less open or democratic way, raise licensing costs, or turn away from Sun's prior effort to release Java in open source," Hilwa recalls. But in practice, Oracle has long been a key Java supporter and built a "sizable middleware franchise" around it.
"The bigger test for Oracle is the overall health of the Java ecosystem, which is where an even bigger chunk of Java value sits," says Hilwa. He points out Java is under pressure from competing developer ecosystems, including Microsoft and Web platforms. Java also faces relevancy and fragmentation challenges: "To remain relevant and attractive to new developers, Java must evolve on a faster schedule and effectively support the ongoing industry transformation into mobile, cloud, and social applications."
Despite Oracle's stewardship, Java "is at risk of fragmentation into multiple forks of loosely similar but competing technologies as a result of Google's success with Android and the potential of Android's evolution into client and server form factors," Hilwa says.
Oracle's ambitious plans for Java, including cloud computing and modular capabilities, have indeed been admirable. But there have been significant bumps in the road, such as an anticipated delay in modular Java, compiler bugs in Java SE 7, and Oracle losing its lawsuit against Google over Android.
Still, Oracle can be congratulated for moving Java forward. The company has even continued development of the NetBeans IDE though it had its own JDeveloper Java IDE and participated in the Eclipse Foundation, which develops the rival Eclipse IDE.
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