Will Oracle be good to Java's developers?
That's the question on everyone's mind at this year's JavaOne developer conference, the last show before Oracle's planned $7.4 billion buyout of Java's creator, Sun Microsystems. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made a surprise appearance at the show's opening keynote Tuesday and tried to assuage developer concerns. While he implied that there would be some changes, he said, essentially, that it will be business as usual for Java when the acquisition is concluded.
[ InfoWorld's Paul Krill raised a similar question when the Oracle-Sun acquisition was originally announced: Is Java as we know it doomed? | And Ed Snyder asks: Did the good Larry or bad Larry buy Java? | Keep up with app dev issues and trends with InfoWorld's Fatal Exception and Strategic Developer blogs. ]
But Oracle is no Sun. Sun has long struggled to keep its diverse community of developers happy, creating a burdensome bureaucracy to manage the development of Java standards and gradually releasing key components of the platform under an open source license. While Sun has made some money from Java licenses, it has missed out on big opportunities to sell lucrative Java development tools and middleware servers.
Sun remains, at its heart, a hardware company; Oracle sells software.
To some extent, Sun's failure to cash in on Java has helped it remain a neutral steward of the technology, but that dynamic will change under Oracle. At JavaOne this week, one Sun employee summed up the difference between the two companies, saying an Oracle staffer had told him recently, "We're not a nonprofit company like you guys."
Developers at the show are chiefly concerned with three things: Will Oracle keep Java open? Will it use its control over Java to favor its own products? And, finally, which Java technologies will be killed off after the merger?
Using its control over Java to favor Oracle's own products would drive developers away from the platform, show attendees said. "The worst-case scenario would be if Oracle did some tight integration, " said Kevin Hooke, a Java developer with a large technology consulting firm.
Similarly, rolling the annual JavaOne conference into Oracle's OpenWorld event -- a plan rumored to be in the works, according to show attendees -- would hurt the Java development community, which has pushed for independence from Sun ever since Java's inception. "If you fold JavaOne into an Oracle-only conference, you're going to harm the foundation of Java," Hooke said.
Publicly Sun executives are forging ahead as if the Oracle merger weren't happening. Aside from Ellison's brief appearance, Sun executives either made no mention of the acquisition or declined to comment on the issue at the show. Sun has acknowledged, however, that it can't say for sure whether Oracle will continue to develop things like its cloud computing services if the acquisition goes through.