The Java language and its related middleware standards have been central to enterprise computing for a number of years. Are users concerned now that Java originator Sun Microsystems is part of Oracle? As Oracle recently rolled out an acquisition roadmap, the Java community paid close attention to see how individual Sun Java-based products and projects would fare.
Oracle was vocal about its intent to keep its own Java-based software products as "strategic" while investing in Sun's potpourri of Java tools more as reference implementations.
"For the most part, Oracle's existing tools seem to have 'won,'" said RedMonk analyst Michael Coté. "While [Oracle] didn't say they were going to eliminate NetBeans, it did get positioned as a specialized tool for mobile, dynamic languages, visual-intensive work and the reference implementation for relevant Java standards." Over the years, much of the tools world has turned to the Eclipse framework instead of NetBeans. Meanwhile, Oracle seems ready to continue with its own JDeveloper Java IDE for commercial shops.
NetBeans is important to the Java world, says Independent Java EE consultant and author Reza Rahman.
"Right now there needs to be a competitor to Eclipse," said Rahman. "Eclipse is a great IDE, but it has problems; it's very heavy weight. Most people at high levels know that JDeveloper is not going anywhere."
Rahman said Oracle's recent announcements were not very alarming or surprising to the Java developers and Sun shops he works with. Some of this could be because many expect Oracle to focus on competing with IBM for large enterprise contracts more than to focus on gutting and repositioning a few open source development tools.
As Java consultant and author Daniel Rubio points out, however, there is not as much incentive for Oracle to fully maintain NetBeans. He said NetBeans is a full-fledged product that faces new internal competition from Oracle's product lines with JDeveloper—which is already free—as well as increasing pressure from community projects like Eclipse.
GlassFish, WebLogic and JCP
Sun's open source application server, GlassFish, is unlikely to compete with Oracle's WebLogic. Instead Coté said it would probably be positioned for lower paying contracts involving departmental projects or for developers who strictly support open source and don't generally want to pay for software.
Glassfish is a small part of the Java app server pie. About one-quarter [25.5%] of Java developers were planning to use the Glassfish application server more in 2009-2010, according to TheServerSide.com 2009 Java survey (fielded after Oracle proposed to buy Sun but before completion of the deal).
Though it has a role as a Java EE reference implementation, notes Daniel Rubio, there is a strong counter presence provided by Java community projects like Tomcat that partially go head to head with Glassfish.
"Tomcat is even more lightweight than Glassfish," noted Rubio.
"It's important to note that Tomcat can do pretty much what Glassfish does if you're willing to put the pieces together," writes Rubio. Alternatively, Reza Rahman suggests that Glassfish is a reference implementation with ''an enterprise ready'' feel.
The move of Sun to Oracle may mean new direction in the Java Community Process (JCP). The formal process that drives the evolution of the Java specification, Oracle said the JCP would become more "inclusive."
"I really think the JCP has been broken up 'til now," said Wayne Citrin, CTO of JNBridge LLC, a Java/.NET interoperability shop out of Boulder, Col. "The language gets more and more complicated and the new features get more incoherent."
Citrin suggested that perhaps a new perspective behind the leadership of the JCP will lead to some simplification.
Rahman said he is excited for the shake-up, but sees any major changes in style as slow in coming. Too much change too quickly in the JCP would likely cause instability in related middleware, Rahman said. But he found the fact that the company looks to be getting started on Java EE 7 right away to be encouraging.
"Really, the biggest change with Oracle going forward needs to be that they treat the good parts of Sun—the engineering and the people—as their research and development mechanism," said Rahman. "That, and keeping an open source strategy and a mid-market strategy."
German Java consultant and author Adam Bien said he was happy only a few of Sun's projects got canceled. One he said he will miss is Project Kenai, a collaborative hosting site for free and open source projects. Continued support for GlassFish and NetBeans were a relief, he said.
"GlassFish and NetBeans are so great because the engineers were very passionate and motivated to build the best, lightweight [tools] in a very short time," said Bien. "The question is whether they will still be as motivated working for Oracle."
Sun has had a culture willing to support projects that would not likely lead to any real revenue, but encouraged innovation, Bien said. Some of these include Jini, JXTA, Project LookingGlass and Project Darkstar. Under Oracle, he feels these "wouldn't have any chance."
As for middleware, Oracle's ability moving forward to offer an entire integrated stack—complete with hardware—will no doubt reshape the competitive landscape to some extent. Coté said this level of integration could address some of the major pain points in joining the "edges" of heterogeneous systems in an enterprise architecture.
"But while a fully integrated offering may address those problems by eliminating those edges," Coté said, "the tradeoff is limited choice of technology. This could be good, bad or meaningless depending on the development team's needs."
[Includes reporting by Jack Vaughan]