Oracle Charts Out Java’s Future

Where's Java headed?

The US software maker provides a glimpse into the world of Java, Oracle software and hardware, and the future of these technologies.

May 10-11, Oracle JavaOne and Oracle Develop 2011, Hyderabad, India: Before the launch of JavaOne at the Hyderabad International Convention Center, there was much anticipation about the keynote on Java strategy and directions. This was to be jointly given by Nandini Ramani, vice president, Java Client Development, and Param Singh, senior director, Product Development, Oracle.

Many Java developers and user groups consider Oracle’s stewardship of Java as unsatisfactory. When Oracle took over Sun Microsystems two years back, there were doubts about whether a follow-the-money enterprise like Oracle would ensure continued investment and innovation in Java technology. This was especially so because Sun had been unable to make money off Java and there were high chances that Oracle would relegate it to the background if business returns were not forthcoming.

Battling uncertainties

James Gosling, a.k.a. “Father of Java”, also expressed mixed feelings about Oracle’s ability to handle Java. He left the company in April 2010 — just a few months after Oracle acquired Sun. During the Hadoop Summit 2010, Gosling said that he believed that on the server side, Oracle would “execute really well” but beyond that he was unsure how Java would fare.

Lack of a concrete roadmap, and uncertainty about the future of OpenJDK7 and JDK7 were some of the issues that many wanted to see clarified by Oracle at Oracle JavaOne and Oracle Develop 2011. Organised for the first time in 1996, JavaOne is said to be the world’s largest conference for Java developers. This was the first time that the conference was held in India.

Looking beyond the Sun-to-Oracle transition

Highlighting the developments on Java at Oracle, Ramani, who was a long–time Sun employee prior to Oracle’s acquisition, said, “I can tell you the transition from Sun to Oracle has been very positive. Sun, of course, was a great place for Java, but we were a hardware company with software as a side focus. I was at Sun for 16 years, which really is a long time; yet having come to Oracle, I can tell you, it is very focused. Oracle is committed to making Java successful across the board and is strongly focused on growing the developer base and the rate of adoption.

“We are making some great progress. For instance, Java Community Process (JCP) is moving again; we are filing Java Specification Requests (JSRs). Versions 7 and 8 of the Java Development Kit, which have been four years in the making, are finally happening, and the releases are just around the corner. The other big development is on the client side, with Java FX (a software platform for creating and delivering rich Internet applications) enhancements, which will enable it to become the premier environment for rich client applications.”

Param Singh added, “The focus and the commitment that Oracle has on Java is obvious. You can see the results for yourself by downloading the latest versions of JDK7 or seeing the work happening in Java FX. We are actually very excited to work with the community, ISVs, operators and OEMs, to not only learn more about their requirements but to work with them to modernise the platform and take it forward.”

Java and the business side

Highlighting that the software maker has been quite disciplined about extracting money from its technologies, Ramani said, “Oracle is a business-focused company and Java is vital to its success. Oracle is making huge investments to ensure that Java thrives in various areas.” She added, “Oracle itself has over 10,000 Java developers. All of our fusion middleware is written in Java. It’s used in every major industry segment and has a presence in a wide range of devices, computers, and networks.”

Sharing the latest developments and technologies related to Java, Ramani stated, “The company is making huge investments to ensure that Java thrives, which in different areas means different things. Take, for instance, Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (EE). It is on a path; it has had a cadence of execution. We have delivered JSRs and are filing the new EE7 JSR. So the investment in EE is guaranteed.”

“Oracle has continued to invest in Toplink (an object-relational mapping — ORM — package for Java developers) and BEA Weblogic (a J2EE application server). Oracle didn’t shut down any of these but enhanced them. So, you will see GlassFish (an open source application server project for the Java EE platform) and Weblogic together. Additionally, in Java Platform, Standard Edition (SE), JRockit (a proprietary Java virtual machine or JVM) was a contender for HotSpot JVM (a Java virtual machine for desktops and servers) but now we are merging the two versions of the VM. In fact, VM is one of Oracle’s crown jewels. You will see a lot of significant developments in JDK and Java SE for sure.”

“The other component is the client (end user) side of Java. The reason why the client is very vital is that we are currently compared with technologies like .NET and others, simply because we have both the client as well as server side to our Java applications and SDKs. We are not like PHP (a originally designed for Web development) and others, where the focus is only on the server side. Even though we are not a client-focused consumer space company, I think Java’s success has been in driving enterprise applications. Therefore, every investment you see on the client side will be more in tune with the enterprises. Our Java Micro Edition or Java ME (a Java platform designed for embedded systems, such as mobile devices) is a revenue-making business that still exists. Though there are contenders in the smartphone space (which is still a wide market), we feel there is a huge demand for it.”

“Going forward, we are very clear that we are going to invest in Java card (a technology that allows Java-based applications (applets) to be run securely on smart cards and similar small memory footprint devices), Java ME, the core JDK platform, Java FX and Java EE,” she concluded.

What makes Java the apple of a developer’s eye?

One might wonder why Java has become invaluable to software developers. In an earlier presentation, Steven G Harris, senior vice-president, Application Server Development, Oracle, who oversees product development for Java EE, said, “One of the great things about Java is that if you learn the language, the platform and the libraries, you have an incredible variety of deployment options and ways you can target the things you are developing — whether for the enterprise, desktop, or the mobile and embedded space.”

According to the Tiobe Community Programming Community Index, Java remains the world’s most popular programming language. Though Java has substantial distribution through the company, its language and platform work best on Oracle’s middleware foundation. “All of our middleware — when we talk about Fusion Middleware — is written in Java,” Harris noted. “So here’s the message: If Java is not successful, we will fail. We really want Java to be successful, so keeping Java open, and having developers working in Java is really critical to our success.”

Paving the way for Java’s future development

Harris pointed to the estimated 14 million Java developers across the world with some nine million using Java regularly during the work day. He acknowledged that Java has been criticised as advancing too slowly and for overly cumbersome and bureaucratic processes. But he insisted, “We are very committed to accelerating it and making Java more competitive, making it the kind of language you choose to develop with because of the advantages it gives you.”

Oracle believes that its tieups with different companies like IBM are going to reinforce Java tremendously. Earlier, it was fragmented with everybody creating their own flavours. But that should be a thing of the past, with Oracle reaching out to a lot of companies to come and participate in one space in order to grow Java together as a community. This was the vision for Java at Sun as well, Ramani quipped.

During the conference, the company also announced its plans for advancing the Java SE and optimising it for new application models and hardware, including extended support for scripting languages, increased developer productivity and lower operational costs.

The announced roadmap for the OpenJDK accelerates the availability of Java SE with two releases, one slated for 2011 and the other for 2012. These OpenJDK releases will continue to serve as the basis for the Oracle JDK7 and JDK 8.

Going forward…

Oracle is currently working to merge the Oracle Java HotSpot JVM and the Oracle JRockit JVM into a converged offering, which is aimed at leveraging the best features of each of these implementations. The company also plans to contribute the results of the combined Oracle Java HotSpot and Oracle JRockit JVMs to the OpenJDK project. The Oracle JDK and Java Runtime Environment or JRE (a software platform that contains JVM, Java libraries and some other components) will continue to be available as free downloads, with no changes to the existing licensing models.

It also outlined plans to deliver advanced graphics, high-fidelity media, and the ability to render HTML content within Java applications through a programming model that combines the power of Java with the ease of JavaFX. The company said it is working to tightly integrate JavaFX with the JRE to enable better performance and improved usability.

As part of the next release of JavaFX in the third quarter of 2011, Oracle will introduce a new set of Java APIs (application programming interfaces) that will open JavaFX capabilities to all Java developers, without the need for them to learn a new scripting language. The new Java APIs will allow the use of a host of Java features such as generics, annotations and multi-threading, and will also make it easier for Web developers to use JavaFX within other popular dynamic languages such as JRuby, Groovy and JavaScript.

The company is also mulling over other enhancements, including new language features, small-footprint CPU-efficient capabilities for cards, phones and TVs.

As conveyed during the conference, Oracle’s business strategy and vision of Java’s future would be to deliver a complete, open, integrated stack of hardware, infrastructure, database, middleware and business applications. The US software maker aims to make hardware and software work together to provide better serviceability and manageability.

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