Software development predictions for 2011

Developers struggle to cope with a Java market dominated by Oracle, smartphone platforms duke it out, and the specter of legislation looms

As last week's post highlighted, predicting the future can be a tricky business, especially in a market as volatile as IT. With the global economy still in dire straits, I don't foresee a lot of fireworks in the software development space for 2011, but with as many loose threads as were left dangling this year, there are bound to be a few interesting advances. Let's see what my crystal ball has to offer.

Java and beyond
Naturally, the issue on many developers' minds will be what to do about Oracle. Ever since the database giant completed its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in January, it has moved aggressively to consolidate its control over Sun's technology portfolio, with Java developers squarely in the cross fire.

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The Apache Software Foundation's decision to resign from the Java Community Process (JCP) was a damning indictment of the Java specification process under Oracle's direction, and it cast grave doubt on the future of a free and open Java. I expect more defections from the JCP in 2011, even though these will be more symbolic gestures than anything else.

The issue facing the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) now is how to proceed. Java has become far too central to the ASF's software efforts to abandon the technology. In the past, the ASF could count on major support from the likes of IBM, but IBM's decision to downplay its work on Apache Harmony in favor of Oracle's OpenJDK leaves the ASF short of allies that could give Oracle a run for its money.

I predict Google will step in to fill this void. Google uses Java extensively in its data centers, and its ongoing legal battle with Oracle over its use of Java technology in Android is sure to leave a sour taste in its mouth. Expect Google to become more vocal in its support for Apache's open source implementation of the platform, and to host resources and documentation designed to give developers more confidence in choosing a Java implementation that's not under Oracle's boot heel.

Over the long term, however, Google can't afford to put all its eggs in the Java basket. I doubt we've heard the last of Go, the Java-like language Google debuted in 2009 that aims to make it easier for developers to write parallel processing applications. Although Go is far too immature to be a true competitor to Java today, expect a quiet beta release in late 2011 to spur momentum behind the language.

The mobile platform shakeout begins
Ironically, one technology that won't be much affected by Google and Oracle's quarrel over Java will be Android. Google's smartphone initiative is far too important to the search giant to give up without a fight -- to say nothing of the investments made by the mobile carriers and handset manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. For now, Google's deep pockets should be enough to insulate the Android ecosystem from any immediate effects of the litigation.

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