Feeding the Elephant – The Release of Java 7

Java was born of the intelligence and generosity of Sun Microsystems; over the past 15 years, it has evolved, grown in features and put down roots in an incredibly large part of the technology landscape.  The generosity of Sun made Java open source (for the most part), furthering its spread.

New releases of Java occurred about every two years through 2006.  Sun was in trouble as a company, and Java languished, with no new release in 2008 or 2009.

Oracle bought Sun, with all of its assets, including Java.  Oracle already had some presence in the Java environment, due to their earlier acquisition of BEA, noted for its WebLogic app server, and for its high performance JVM, JRockit.

With the release of Java 7, the first since 2006, Oracle appears to be positioning Java for renewed life.  Note that Java 7 SE is still not available for the Mac, nor was a projected date for that mentioned.

There’s only a few noteworthy new features, such as the new I/O library (NIO2); better directory support; symbolic link support; features to take advantage of multi-core processors (Fork Join framework); etc.  It’s more of a new foundation for work to come, such as the merge of JRockit with Sun’s Hot Spot JVM.

Java benefits from a large talent base of developers, highly experienced, with many enthusiastic about the language despite the lack of enhancement in recent years.  At the local JavaSIG meeting, several developers expressed concern about Java over the longer term.  The language for some was not only mature, but starting to feel a bit dated.  It’s not clear to me how much of that is valid and objective, or based in emotional reaction that it is now Oracle in charge of Java’s future.

Oracle has smart product managers, and an energetic marketing arm.  They surely recognize that they need to win the confidence and trust of the development community and those making strategic decisions for technology.  This release of Java is a reasonable first step.  Next one should be a detailed road map, and timely delivery of the items on it.

The strategic question some ask, “Will Java offer the performance and features in 5 years that we need to stay competitive?”  The jury waits on Oracle to prove its commitment over the next two years.

Java for Oracle may wind up being like the story of the person who bought an elephant, and then was faced with the cost of caring for and feeding it.



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