Oracle's big bear hug for Java bodes really well

The database leader has big plans for Java as it begins merging Sun Microsystems' software product line with its own -- fears of Java's demise now seem misplaced

It's been almost 10 months since I first pondered the possibility of an Oracle/Sun merger. Now, with the European Commission's last objection lifted, that merger is finally a reality. Senior Oracle execs outlined their plans for Sun in a media event Wednesday, and while most of the attention was on Oracle's forthcoming line of integrated hardware/software solutions based on Sun technologies, there was encouraging news for Java developers, too.

Java gets a cash infusion

Uncertainty has dogged the Java platform in recent years. Sun's decision to license the JDK as open source software was hailed as a step forward by many developers, but critics worried that the move meant Sun would never be able to properly capitalize on one of its most important technologies. In turn, they argued, the lack of a strong profit motive could leave the Java platform effectively rudderless.

[ InfoWorld's Paul Krill outlines Oracle's strategy for integrating Sun's technology. | Relive the rise and fall of Sun Microsystems in InfoWorld's slideshow. ]

In a Q&A session following Wednesday's briefing, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison dismissed such concerns in typically breezy fashion. "Sun didn't make a lot of money from Java, but we sure did," he said. "BEA sure did."

Oracle acquired BEA Systems for $8.5 billion in 2008, and with it BEA's highly profitable WebLogic J2EE application server business. With the Sun acquisition, Oracle gains stewardship of the Java language itself; and while many of its components are open source, Oracle's CEO sees Java's big picture as being greater than the sum of its parts.

"I don't think it's essential that we find a way to make money from [specific Sun] components," Ellison said Wednesday. "We have the money to invest in Java, because Java is a very profitable business for us already. Exactly where additional revenues will come from is less important than simply growing our middleware installed base."

To achieve that growth, Oracle plans to invest $4.3 billion on R&D in the coming year, according to Oracle president Charles Phillips. That's up from $2.8 billion last year -- so you can bet some of that cash will be heading Java's way soon.

One Java, many targets As for exactly how the Java group plans to use its newfound funds, Oracle Senior Vice President of Product Development Thomas Kurian said delivering a new Java runtime is a top priority. Java SE 7 will bring important improvements, he said, including greater modularity, better support for non-Java languages, and better performance, including garbage collection optimized for multicore processors.

There's good news on the Java ME front, too. Recognizing the difficulties Java developers face when transitioning between the different platforms, Oracle plans to unify the Java SE and Java ME programming models and APIs. According to Kurian, while there may be a number of different runtimes for deploying Java apps, each optimized for a different class of devices, the programming model will do a better job of uniting the various deployment targets into a cohesive whole.

Another interesting revelation whipped by so fast that a casual listener might have missed it.  According to Kurian, Oracle is working on getting the JVM to run natively on hypervisors. If it succeeds, developers may soon be able to run multiple Java instances on a single, virtualized server, without having to install guest operating systems to host the JVMs.

The implications of these efforts are exciting, to say the least. Java has long touted a "write once, run anywhere" philosophy, but the reality of the platform has never really lived up to the hype. Wednesday's announcements make it clear that Oracle is very interested in improving that situation, making Java an even stronger alternative to Microsoft's .Net platform.

Not redundant, but complementary

Much of the rest of the talk about Java in Wednesday's briefing was devoted to explaining how Sun's software will be integrated with Oracle's existing product line. So far, at least, Oracle plans to eliminate nothing. Where Sun's offerings complement Oracle's, the products will be maintained on separate tracks, while products with extensive overlap will be merged.

For example, Oracle plans to improve JVM performance by integrating Sun's HotSpot JVM with JRockit, the high-performance JVM developed by BEA. The combined product will also feature improved real-time monitoring and management, in keeping with Oracle's one-stop management strategy.

Netbeans fans will be relieved to hear that Oracle plans to continue to develop Netbeans as a lightweight development environment, while JDeveloper will keep its role as Oracle's strategic IDE for enterprise Java development. That doesn't mean Netbeans will lie fallow, either; Oracle is already planning to beef up its support for scripting, dynamic languages, and mobile development.

Similarly, although WebLogic will remain Oracle's strategic Java EE application server, Oracle will continue to maintain Sun's Glassfish application server as a "lightweight, rapid development and deployment environment." As with NetBeans, Oracle sees Sun's open source product as a reference implementation, with Oracle's pricier, proprietary solutions offering more value-added features.

If anything about the presentation made me wince a little bit, it was the news that Oracle plans to "invest aggressively" in JavaFX, Sun's stillborn RIA platform. That means "eliminating the line between Java, JavaScript, and JavaFX," according to Kurian, as well as allowing developers to "mix and match" JavaFX with Oracle Application Development Framework (ADF) code in browser-based apps. Good luck with that one, fellas.

But the really eye-opening thing about Wednesday's presentation was just how much Oracle actually had to say about Java. I expected superficial affirmations like Ellison gave at OpenWorld; what I got was almost too much to process. Doubtless we can expect to hear much, much more about Oracle's Java plans in the coming months, and that's great news. I'm not quite ready to say Java developers will be wide awake with excitement yet. But at the very least, they can rest a whole lot easier.

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