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Future of Java uncertain as Oracle moves to buy Sun, VMware grabs SpringSource.

The Java world was shaken up this year when Oracle moved to buy Sun Microsystems and VMware purchased SpringSource. Viewers speculate on what this means for the future of Java.

The Java world got a bit of a shake-up this year when Oracle moved to purchase Sun and VMware purchased SpringSource. With Sun in control of the Java Community Process (JCP), which governs the language, Java going forward would be more tied to Oracle. Meanwhile, the lightweight open source Spring framework—an alternative to the full-fledged Java EE 6 standard—would now be housed under the VMware umbrella.

In April, Oracle announced its decision to purchase Sun for 7.4 billion. Though the acquisition was still under review by the European Union in mid-December, its approval would turn control of Sun's products over to Oracle. These include MySQL, GlassFish, NetBeans and, in many ways, Java itself. It would also give Oracle its first hardware division.

"Sun had never fully recovered from the dot-com crash in 2001 and 2002," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions. "Sun tried as a hardware company to turn itself into a software company. It didn't succeed."

Oracle, on the other hand, has the software pedigree but would grow quite a bit from acquiring hardware like Sun's Blade and SPARC servers, Gardner said.

The EU's primary concerns center around the effect the $2.8 billion a year software maker would have on MySQL, one of the most widely-used open source databases. Reza Rahman, an independent Java consultant and co-author of EJB 3 In Action, doesn't think MySQL was an overriding factor in Oracle's purchase of Sun.

Rahman doubts MySQL is as strategically significant to Oracle as some of Sun's other properties.

"Oracle has much bigger things in mind than control of MySQL," said Rahman, "like control of Java and solidifying their hold on the middleware market."

While Sun's purchase by IBM (an aborted merger that predated Oracle's move) caused concerns for the future of Java, those concerns have not abated with Sun's purchase by Oracle.

"What's going to happen if Oracle takes over and there's no new specification created?" asked Antonio Goncalves, software architect and author of books on Java EE 5 and 6. "Then you're going to have a Java 7 that will run on Oracle, and a Java 7 that will run on Apache and a Java 7 that will run on IBM."

Goncalves said the ideal scenario would for the JCP to become independent. Others have said that group was long overdue for some change.

"I think Java has been in a position for a long time where it hasn't really lead [in new] functionality," said RedMonk analyst Michael Coté. "I think some people wanted to shake things up in the JCP."

He said the hope is that Oracle will up the speed of innovation in Java EE. Many in the enterprise Java community share a feeling that the reigning specification always seems to be a ways behind the needs of modern IT. On the other hand, it would benefit Oracle to keep development slow because that would lead to more potential product offerings, said Coté.

VMware purchase of SpringSource will lead to Java private cloud
The consensus that drove Java's wide use has splintered in recent years as the less comprehensive but more lightweight Spring framework has gained in use. The big news with Spring this year was the acquisition of SpringSource, the company that oversees Spring, by virtualization provider VMware for $420 million. Beyond Spring's lightweight approach, the framework is also known for popular new functional features. For example, where Java EE6 just recently gained dependency injection, Spring has had it for some years.

While Spring is open source, it close connection to one vendor differs from Java EE, which has a long history of support by multiple major vendors.

"In the crisis and downturn times, people are very interested in standards again," said Adam Bien, consultant and author of numerous books on Java EE. "And [they are] very afraid of Spring."

SpringSource has, in recent years, worked to improve things like reporting, analytics and productivity in Spring. These are some of the concerns they addressed by acquiring open source monitoring provider Hyperic in May. Spring 3, due to be released in the coming months, is expected to have new productivity and automation features.

But what of the future of SpringSource as far as VMware's offerings are concerned?

Rod Johnson, general manager of VMware's SpringSource division and former SpringSource CEO, said the companies are working on a private cloud offering for 2010.

"The private cloud will build on vSphere technology," said Johnson. "We will be putting SpringSource middleware and management technologies on top of that to deliver a dynamically-scalable internal cloud appliance."

Java moves toward componentization
At year end it was clear Java was moving to take on a bit of the look of Spring. After long gestation, Sun released Java EE 6 just this December. It features profiles that pare off some of the lesser-used features.

"I have a sense that in recent months Java has caught up with the ability to be in smaller Web profiles," said Coté.

Lately, he said, "people tend to look for very small-profile stacks."

Gardner has noticed this trend as well. Recently, he said, it has seemed that while organizations are looking to build data centers that are integrated in total, developers are looking for software that is more componentized.

One trend that spurs growth of componentized software is the growing adoption of the OSGi framework. T OSGi framework divides Java resources into bundles that can run processes, export services, and be managed by a container.

"OSGi has been a force that has been popular that Java has had to react to," said Gardner. "We've also seen the Apache Foundation, Spring and a number of other of other open source technologies have come into play in a way that is componentized and lightweight."

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