Year in Review: Java development in 2009

New directions for the Java platform

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Partners and acquisitions

While Sun's recent shifts have led many to speculate on whether we're seeing a giant's slow decline, it bears mentioning that the company still generates revenues in the billions, and has plenty of money in the bank. It's likely that Sun will push hard on the software front in 2009, and it won't be surprising if it continues to acquire companies (and related technologies) that further its software strategy. If I had to make a guess, I'd look for Sun to partner with other companies playing in the rich Internet application (RIA) space.

Another interesting target for Sun is the company behind what's arguably the most popular software platform for enterprise Java developers today: Spring. In late 2008, SpringSource released a study (in cooperation with Evans Data research) stating that "73% of all organizations responded that they use Spring or plan to use Spring within two years," and (stunningly) that "83% of organizations with 500 or more developers are using Spring today." Any company fighting for developer loyalty in the Java enterprise market would pay a hefty fee for those data points. Although SpringSource's financials are private -- and, arguably, acquiring the company doesn't open up new markets for Sun (Spring users already use Java, after all) -- a partnership between the two companies could give Sun a way to capitalize further on Java itself. Sun traditionally has made money by licensing Java and its certification process, but certainly not from supporting the language or widely adopted tools that run on it. (See "Lightweight deployment heats up" for more about what to expect from SpringSource in 2009.)

Sun's open source strategy

Sun's acquisition of MySQL in early 2008 is in keeping with the company's renewed commitment to software. It was also one of several indicators that, after years of resistance, the company has strongly embraced open source. Sun  GPLed Java SE and ME in 2006 and currently supports the open source GlassFish and OpenJDK projects, as well as OpenOffice.org. Company insiders have also indicated that its newest (and shiniest) project, JavaFX, is eventually headed toward being open source.

Spring and Groovy in 2009

Spring adoption will most likely continue to soar in 2009, which is good news for developers using Groovy and Grails. SpringSource acquired G2One (and the brains behind both Groovy and Grails) in late 2008. How the company will leverage the popular language and framework remains to be seen. SpringSource CEO Rod Johnson has acknowledged that a rationale for purchasing G2One was the explosive growth in downloads of the Groovy-based Grails platform.

In addition to acquiring and promoting open source technologies, Sun also hired talented developers from the open source JRuby and Jython projects in 2007 and 2008. We may see this trend continue in the year ahead, even despite the company's economic trials. Having developers working on JRuby conceivably brings Ruby talent and applications, such as Rails, to the JVM. Jython has the potential to do the same by leveraging the Python Web application framework, Django. If the strategy holds, it may explain why languages like Groovy, Scala, and Clojure haven't been, and won't necessarily be, targets for Sun. Unlike Python or Ruby, the core developer base for these languages already is working on the JVM. Instead, Sun could continue to pursue developers working on alternate languages not directly tied to Java. Languages with substantial momentum and a bridge to the JVM could very well be on Sun's hit list in the coming year.

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