Is The Death Of Java An Overreaction?

Recent news coverage could suggest that the Java ecosystem is about to implode, and thereby put at risk the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours the customers and developers have invested in Java. The reality couldn’t be farther from that prognostication.

Java’s rocky 2010
Java champion and Apache Software Foundation member Stephen Colebourne provides a good summary of recent trials and tribulations that the Java ecosystem has endured. In his post, “Babylon 5 & the Great War of Java,” Colebourne writes: “In a short period of time, Java has gone from the platform designed to unify the entire industry to a highly politicized punching bag.”

A key element surrounding the angst around Java’s future has been Oracle’s lack of public engagement with the Java ecosystem as the events in Colebourne’s blog post were unfolding.

The Eclipse Foundation’s Ian Skerrett provided helpful advice to Oracle on working in open communities:

The basic premise of the book [The Cluetrain Manifesto] is that communities are really conversations and to succeed you need to be part of and interact with the community. I know this can be a challenge with all your lawyers and marketing executives trying to control the message, but you have to do it to gain the trust of the community. Companies like IBM and SAP manage to do it, so you can too.

The good news is that Oracle has broken the silence and is helping to clear up the fear, uncertainty, and doubt behind its recent Java-related decisions. For example, Oracle’s Adam Messinger, vice president of Java development, commented on Colebourne’s Java Community Process (JCP) post:

On the topic of Hologic, our feeling is that standards folks, technologists, and technology vendors are already well represented and there is room for some new opinions at the table. The fact is that a big part of Java’s success is driven by thousands of developers at small and mid-size companies like Hologic. These developers, who are working squarely in the Microsoft sweet spot, are on the forefront of our competition with .Net. Hologic has bet its business on Java — not as a supplier of Java, but as a consumer — and we think having their perspective on the [Java Community Process Executive Committee] is valuable. They are absolutely representative of a large cross-section of the Java community.

When explained, the nomination of Hologic is perfectly logical. In fact, you could question why Java customers were not better represented on the Java Community Process (JCP) in the past. In response, you could presume that Java vendors, like IBM or Red Hat, brought forward the needs of their customers to the JCP.

The Java ecosystem – too big to fail

The Eclipse Foundation’s Mike Milinkovich wrote a well reasoned and rational post about the future of Java and the JCP. One conclusion that Milinkovich makes is that “IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, and others are committed to making OpenJDK and the JCP successful, so there is no vacuum to fill.”

Whether the vacuum posed a significant risk to companies or developers adopting Java is a separate matter.

Ex-JBoss executive and now CEO at CloudBees, a Java ecosystem vendor, Sacha Labourey tweeted: “The ecosystem has no other way but to recover, somehow; it’s too big to fail.”

While the words “too big to fail” have gained a fairly negative connotation of late, Labourey correctly highlights a key facet that “Java is dead” prognosticators neglect to mention.  The financial investments and skills built around Java are simply too large for Java ecosystem vendors to do anything but move forward in the interests of their customers and developers. With IBM, Red Hat, and Oracle pledging support and development resources, the open source OpenJDK project now appears to be a rallying point for the Java community to do just this.

Even Microsoft, hardly considered a Java ecosystem vendor, continues to highlight its support for the open source Apache Tomcat servlet container on the Microsoft Azure cloud. According to RedMonk analyst Michael Cote, in attendance at Microsoft’s annual Professional Developer’s Conference, Microsoft executive Bob Muglia stated in his keynote, “We’re making Java a first-class citizen on Windows Azure.”

Looking beyond vendors, a review of enterprise Java jobs at suggests that enterprise Java skills remain in high demand.

And Devoxx, a European Java conference billed as a “conference for Javaholics,” is sold out with nearly 3,000 attendees from 40 countries. Oracle Glassfish team member Alexis Moussine-Pouchkine recently tweeted, “Every conference I’ve been to recently was sold out. JUG (Java User Group) meetings are as popular as ever. It must be Java’s decline causing this.”

Encourage programming language diversity
While Java’s future appears far less unclear than news reports may suggest, IT decision-makers should still evaluate Java alternatives in the enterprise.

Why? Because, few of as today’s new college graduates consider themselves simply “Java developers.” Rather, they are familiar with multiple programming languages. Many even moonlight with PHP or Node.js. By allowing developers to use those skills for certain enterprise projects, IT decision-makers could help accelerate application delivery.

Plus, increased technology competition within your IT department ensures that technology ecosystems, such as Java, Node.js, and .Net, and the vendors in those ecosystems don’t become complacent or ignore innovation occurring in another ecosystem.

Leave a comment