Last call for client-side Java

As browser makers move to block vulnerable plug-ins, Java's future as a client-side platform is uncertain

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Apple distributes Java patches for Mac OS X through its regular update channel, but it's no better. It's notoriously slow to ship Oracle's security fixes, and critical Java vulnerabilities often persist on Mac OS X long after they've been patched on Windows and other platforms.

The elusive Java app
According to Oracle, Java is installed on some 850 million PCs worldwide, but there's no telling how many of those systems are up to date with the latest patches or how many of those JVMs are used with any frequency. It's not uncommon for enterprises to have custom desktop applications written in Java, and the Eclipse IDE is popular with developers, but consumer-oriented Java applications are rare. A few file-sharing clients might be the only Java applications a typical user ever sees.

Java applets are hardly as popular as they once were, either. If browser makers are leaning toward disallowing plug-ins, the days of Java as a technology for the Web could soon be over. And if PC users don't need Java for the Web or to run applications, they might choose not to install it at all, particularly given its penchant for security flaws.

That leaves mobile as the primary client-side market for Java, where it's derived most of its success from so-called feature phones. However, the growth is in smartphones, with even low-end models making inroads against traditional feature-phones. On smartphones as well, Java's track record is spotty. Apple has blocked Java from iOS, just as it has blocked Flash. While Android is based on Java, its implementation is so nonstandard that Oracle is suing Google over it.

Java's stronghold: Servers
Oracle says it remains committed to client-side Java. Just this week, it announced it had hired two new evangelists to promote its JavaFX rich multimedia technology. But all that shows is Oracle recognizes the need to encourage more developers to use JavaFX. It hasn't exactly been popular since it debuted.

If Oracle can't engage more client-side developers, Java will increasingly become a platform for the data center, where it's under no threat. Oracle's own business applications run on Java, as do those of countless other companies. Java offers a rich collection of APIs that make it easy to build reliable business applications. Competing vendors, including IBM and Red Hat, contribute to a vibrant ecosystem.

In the data center, it's easy for IT staff to keep up to date with the latest security fixes. There, complex server applications can keep humming along, efficiently and reliably, until long after developers of desktop software have left Java behind -- kinda like Cobol.

This article, "Last call for client-side Java," originally appeared at Follow the latest news in programming at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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