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Is Java as we know it doomed?

Paul Krill | April 22, 2009
While Oracle and Sun Microsystems are hailing Oracle's purchase of Sun as a big boost for Java, others are not so sure.

SAN FRANCISCO, 21 APRIL 2009 - While Oracle and Sun Microsystems are hailing Oracle's purchase of Sun as a big boost for Java, others are not so sure, questioning what kind of control Oracle might try to exercise over the popular platform that has driven so many enterprise applications since it was first developed in 1995. Observers also expect Oracle to make a go of trying to make more money off of Java than Sun ever could.

Sun has tried to leverage Java as a lead-in to selling services, but without much success. By contrast, Oracle is very disciplined about extracting money from its technologies.

"Java is one of the computer industry's best-known brands and most widely deployed technologies, and it is the most important software Oracle has ever acquired," the companies said in a joint statement announcing the acquisition. "Oracle Fusion middleware, Oracle's fastest growing business, is built on top of Sun's Java language and software. Oracle can now ensure continued innovation and investment in Java technology for the benefit of customers and the Java community."

Oracle's commitment to invest in Java may mean it will go full-force at trying to make money off of Java, a path Sun has not pursued strongly. "I think that they will realize that they want as many people using Java as possible so that's good for their middleware," said Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource and developer of the popular open source Spring Framework for Java application development. The acquisition was partly defensive because Oracle probably did not want competitor IBM owning the Java language, he added.

Oracle has been "better at making money off everything than Sun was before," concurred Vivek Ranadive, CEO of Tibco, a middleware company that competes with some Oracle offerings. "They're not beyond finding ways to make more money off something, and it's always at the customers' expense." When buying companies previously, Oracle has sought to increase maintenance revenues, he said.

Does Java's open source status help it?

Theoretically, Sun is not supposed to be the owner of Java: It has offered up its version of Java to open source. The Java Community Process (JCP) has been set up as a multiparty organization to amend the platform. But Sun has remained the dominant force in Java, with the company always at the forefront of improving it.

The open-sourcing of Java has put the technology out into the community at large, and that is where innovation in the platform now comes from, Johnson stressed. "The innovation in Java comes largely from open source," Johnson said Monday, reaffirming similar remarks he had made last month when it was IBM, and not Oracle, that was supposed to buy Sun. "The language itself is open-sourced. I don't really see [Java] as something that Oracle can own in a meaningful sense."


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