June 28, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

Is Java cooling off?

Related Stories

Sun's Tiger aims to tame Java programming

February 5, 2004

Sun heats up Java show

June 11, 2003

Sun seeks widespread Java brand

June 5, 2003
When Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy took the stage at the fifth JavaOne conference in 2000, he could barely contain himself as he described Java's runaway success.

The Sun creation was attracting millions of programmers eager to use Java to build everything from smart-phone software to high-volume Web sites. "Stewardship of Java is such a profitable business, I feel like a start-up," McNealy gushed.

When another JavaOne conference begins on Monday, McNealy might not be so giddy.

News.context

What's new:
Some say interest in Java is sinking as Sun's fortunes falter--and that making it open source could turn it around.

Bottom line:
Sun is starting to suggest that there may be open source in Java's future, but not in the short run. Still, the issue will be a hot topic at JavaOne this week.

More stories on Java

Java, a cross-platform programming language, remains a vital technology to legions of corporate customers and software companies, but the unity of the Java industry itself is being strained, according to industry observers. The past year has seen more explicit conflict among Java vendors, instead of the cohesive front needed to compete effectively against Microsoft. Also, open source and the rise of Web services have drawn developer attention away from Java.

And Sun's declining revenue and shifting product strategies are a distraction to the industry at large, which has looked to the company as the Java standard bearer.

For Sun, which is trying to revitalize its own Java business, the shifting ground in the software landscape could mean that the Java creator may ultimately have less sway in the direction of the industry.

"Sun is actually losing control of the Java franchise," said Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst at the Burton Group and former Sun executive. "If Sun were smart, they'd see the writing on the wall--that they can't maintain exclusive control of Java and that open source is taking over."

At the JavaOne conference, Sun will forge ahead with its plans to regain lost ground in the Java software market. Sun will be releasing Java Studio Creator, a $99 Java tool meant to steal away developers from Microsoft's easy-to-use products. The company is also introducing a bundle that includes a two-processor Opteron-based Sun server running the Solaris operating system and the Java development tools, for a three-year $1,499 annual subscription.

Sun contends that the Java industry remains vibrant, and that the company regularly evaluates its relationship with the Java community.

The open-source runaround
One of the most pressing questions facing the Java industry is whether Sun will release Java to the open-source community, potentially ceding some control over Java's evolution. One of the most high-profile events planned for this week is a panel discussion to debate the open-source question. IBM and other Java proponents say an open-source version of Java will increase the software's popularity.


Get Up to Speed on...
Open source
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.


Although Sun President Jonathan Schwartz has indicated that Sun is reluctant to make Java open-source software for fear of dividing the industry, the company's new head of software said Sun continues to actively work toward it.

"We are moving in that direction, but we have not decided how, when, or if," said John Loiacono, Sun's executive vice president of software. "No matter what we do on the licensing model, compatibility will be key criteria we will have to address. That's what the community is asking for."

"We are moving (toward open-sourcing Java), but we have not decided how, when, or if."
--John Loiacono,
Sun's executive vice president
of software

The question of making Java open source, which has been most loudly endorsed by IBM, is the most prominent example of how differing interests of the Java community are increasingly bubbling to the surface. Over the past year, other major industry initiatives have been launched outside of the Java Community Process (JCP), the Sun-controlled forum for adding new features to Java software.

Last November, the leading Java server software vendors, IBM and BEA Systems, chose to bypass the JCP to bring new back-end Java features to market. BEA submitted software, including XMLBeans and its Beehive component development model, to open-source foundations because they said that development process is quicker and more flexible than the JCP.

Eclipse, an open-source foundation founded by IBM, has seen a huge increase in popularity among tools companies and Java programmers. Sun declined an invitation to join Eclipse and instead decided to redouble efforts in its own open-source development tools project, NetBeans.

Meanwhile, a group called the Java Tools Community, which includes Sun, Oracle, BEA, SAP and others, was formed to advocate for more work on tooling within the Java Community Process. IBM declined its invitation to join.

Advantage, Microsoft
These disjointed efforts around the advancement of Java underscore how Java vendors are increasingly choosing to go their own way without Sun's direct involvement, said Bill Whyman, an analyst at the Precursor Group. The Java standardization process is democratic, but the lack of a cohesive approach to Java development benefits Microsoft, which is beefing up its .Net line of software to take on the back-end computing jobs dominated by Java.

An open question is how a high-profile technology agreement with Microsoft, announced earlier this year, will affect Java.

"The Java community is being pushed and pulled in many different directions, and that competitive dynamic is undercutting their ability to provide a common front to Microsoft," Whyman said.

The battle between Java-based software companies and Microsoft is far from over. Studies indicate that developers are split between Microsoft's .Net tools and Java-based products for building applications that conform to Web services, a set of protocols that have gained wide industry backing. Java companies are making steady headway in making Java easier to program with better tools and changes to "runtime" software underlying Java applications and tools.

Java has been installed in millions of handheld devices, such as mobile phones, which is a market Microsoft has yet to fully crack.

Sun plays an influential role in the Java industry because it controls the core Java specifications used by other vendors. And Sun provides testing kits to ensure that Java's compatibility so that applications can run on products from different providers.

But in the area of commercial software, Sun finds itself in the role of also-ran, despite having founded the Java industry. In the multibillion-dollar Java server software market, for example, Sun has a single-digit share behind leaders IBM, BEA and Oracle, according to research.

Central to Sun's strategy to gain market share are its new Java Studio Creator tool and a cut-rate, per-user licensing plan for its suite of Java server and desktop products. Sun has signed on some customers to its revamped Java software line, but the full impact of the new

Sun is intent on drawing more financial gain from its ownership of Java, which generates revenue from licensing fees. Java is also one Sun's most valuable brands. The company chose to call its open-source PC software suite Java Desktop System, though it has very little Java in it, notes Rick Ross, a Java programmer and founder of the Java lobby, a Java developer Web site.

"I keep hearing from customers, 'Whatever you do, I don't want to see Java fragment.'"
--John Loiacono,
head of Sun's software unit

"At this stage, the executive view of Java within Sun is 'Let's figure out how we can do anything to bring us revenue.' That's not consistent with the position to provide meaningful community support," said Ross, who points out that contributions to Java come from many sources, including open-source developers and big vendors, notably IBM.

Sun has made changes to the Java Community Process to be more inclusive with open-source foundations and to speed up decision-making. Loiacono acknowledged that there have been complaints about Sun's handling of Java, but they've come mainly from competitors.

"Most of the complaints, if not all, have come from competitors who want to own things outright or have things freely available to them," he said. "I keep hearing from customers, 'Whatever you do, I don't want to see Java fragment.'"

Critics have complained that Sun hasn't done enough to accommodate and harness the collective energy of the open-source developer community.

In February, Michael Tiemann, the chief technology officer of Linux distributor Red Hat, called for greater collaboration between Linux developers and the Java industry. He said that the "open-source community has felt rejected by Java" and that the Java community is closed, going so far as to call it a "Java apartheid."

Bob Sutor, IBM's director of WebSphere infrastructure, said that Java should be a more popular development language to build Linux applications than it is right because the open source and Java communities have a common enemy: Microsoft.

"In terms of Java being used as a general programming language on Linux to do lots of different things all over the place, compared to C++, it just hasn't gotten there yet," Sutor said. He argued that an open-source implementation of Java that could be shipped with Linux distributions would make Java more popular in the open-source developer community.

On a technical level, some software executives contend that Java is not seeing the same amount of engineering investment that it did in the early days of its development. Instead of spending all their energy on building out the software "plumbing" Java provides for business applications, software companies are shifting their focus to features that demonstrate more business value.

"The reality is that Java is a foundation technology. Beyond that, we need to get technology around Java, such as management and Web services," BEA CEO Alfred Chuang said in May.

Still hot?
Sun's Loiacono dismisses the notion that Java is waning in importance. He notes that 12,000 to 15,000 programmers are planning to attend JavaOne next week and that there is a great deal of innovation around Java-specific technologies.

"If Java were a long-in-the-tooth technology, you'd see attendance dropping dramatically," Loiacono said. But JavaOne attendance is increasing, he said. "I don't think we've hit anywhere near the mainstream of where Java is going to be."

Still, developers--which Sun calls the "lifeblood of the company"--need assurances that the company will give them a way forward to the latest technologies, noted John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research. In particular, many developers are wrestling with new programming methods that use Web services to automate business processes, he said.

While Microsoft is well along to adopting Web services throughout its product line, Java-based products that incorporate Web services, based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition 1.4 standard, are relatively recent.

"The community is changing. (Java developers) are moving on, mainly to XML and Web services," Rymer said. "If Sun doesn't move with them, then Java is going to be an interesting part of the infrastructure, but not front and center."

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

8 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Sorry ?
Reading the article gave me the impression that the author was on drugs. Than I realised that I was looking at a CNet article. No wonder. If you are seeking for a definition of the term "FUD" you are in the right place.
Posted by (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sorry ?
Reading the article gave me the impression that the author was on drugs. Than I realised that I was looking at a CNet article. No wonder. If you are seeking for a definition of the term "FUD" you are in the right place.
Posted by (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reality Distortion?
One starts off by hyping a technology to the stratosphere.
Eventually the honeymoon is over and then you get the nay
sayers who because there is nothing really exciting to write
about start engaging in nit picking. Many of the quotes in the
article are out of context, even when they do refer to news.com's
own stories.
The best bit is from Forester's Rymer. Apparantly the world is
waitng for XML and Webservices from Java. I have thousands of
e-pages of xml this and xml that specifications to prove that
between IBM, SUN, Oracle and BEA (among others) Java has a
XML/WS implementation that is second to none. Whether you are
looking for Restful Webservices (www.1060.org), XML RPC
(www.xmlrpc.com) or SOAP (j2ee 1.4), Java has them all and
more, Beep anybody or Grid Services?
I work for one of the largest banks in the world here in the
Netherlands. For the last 4 years Java has been the strategic
applications platform at our bank. Its all Java over here, tied
togather with Messaging (JMS/Websphere MQ). Sure there is a lot
of XML but they are either used on the client tier (XHTML) or as a
propietary message format to integrate data. Here you will also
find a lot of Swing guis doing a lot of heavy lifting on the
desktop and the other thing that never seemed to be noticed
is the popularity of JRMP/RMI protocols to integrate back end
services with the "rich" desktop clients.
I also know for a fact that all our competitors are also using the
J2EE stack to solve problems. There have been exactly two
occasions where SOAP/WSDL was looked into. Once our architect
realized that the problem are essentially confined to the
intranet, they wonder why they needed the abstractions of
structured platform neutral strings to integrate.
You will find a simillar picture in the finacial industry in
Germany, France and England.
So please, when you do a so called pragmatic "state of play" with
respect to Java, try posing the question "what next for Java?"
since XML/Web Services is so old economy.

Suhail
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reality Distortion?
One starts off by hyping a technology to the stratosphere.
Eventually the honeymoon is over and then you get the nay
sayers who because there is nothing really exciting to write
about start engaging in nit picking. Many of the quotes in the
article are out of context, even when they do refer to news.com's
own stories.
The best bit is from Forester's Rymer. Apparantly the world is
waitng for XML and Webservices from Java. I have thousands of
e-pages of xml this and xml that specifications to prove that
between IBM, SUN, Oracle and BEA (among others) Java has a
XML/WS implementation that is second to none. Whether you are
looking for Restful Webservices (www.1060.org), XML RPC
(www.xmlrpc.com) or SOAP (j2ee 1.4), Java has them all and
more, Beep anybody or Grid Services?
I work for one of the largest banks in the world here in the
Netherlands. For the last 4 years Java has been the strategic
applications platform at our bank. Its all Java over here, tied
togather with Messaging (JMS/Websphere MQ). Sure there is a lot
of XML but they are either used on the client tier (XHTML) or as a
propietary message format to integrate data. Here you will also
find a lot of Swing guis doing a lot of heavy lifting on the
desktop and the other thing that never seemed to be noticed
is the popularity of JRMP/RMI protocols to integrate back end
services with the "rich" desktop clients.
I also know for a fact that all our competitors are also using the
J2EE stack to solve problems. There have been exactly two
occasions where SOAP/WSDL was looked into. Once our architect
realized that the problem are essentially confined to the
intranet, they wonder why they needed the abstractions of
structured platform neutral strings to integrate.
You will find a simillar picture in the finacial industry in
Germany, France and England.
So please, when you do a so called pragmatic "state of play" with
respect to Java, try posing the question "what next for Java?"
since XML/Web Services is so old economy.

Suhail
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More Spin
It appears that 90% of the time, if it's not Microsoft, it's doomed, according to CNet News. Either they really have no clue what's going on in general, they get all the information from MS, or they own too much MS stock.

If nothing else, this article is more about Sun's possible problems, than about Java itself. It's quite healthy as MS Visual Studio apps are being ported over right and left.
Posted by kxmmxk (320 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More Spin
It appears that 90% of the time, if it's not Microsoft, it's doomed, according to CNet News. Either they really have no clue what's going on in general, they get all the information from MS, or they own too much MS stock.

If nothing else, this article is more about Sun's possible problems, than about Java itself. It's quite healthy as MS Visual Studio apps are being ported over right and left.
Posted by kxmmxk (320 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cool to cold
Ive been noticing the same trend as the author of the article. We always expect a little drop-off after a new, new thing ages, but this is more than that.

My theory (were all entitled to one) is that Java suffers from the same problems as COBOL, without sharing all of COBOLs benefits. Java is basically aimed at the entry-level (i.e. cheap labor) market -- which isnt to say that there arent some superb programmers who use both languages. But to meet the needs of that market its been unavoidable that it is a highly constrained resource hog. If you try and extend its functionality, you end up with the neither-fish-nor-fowl-nor-good-red-flesh mess that killed COBOL or PL/I or ADA or any other of those antique languages.

Unlike COBOL, there is no consistency across platforms and possession of the skill offers no security for the future. Not too many people believe that there will be much Java around a decade from now, let alone three or four decades. James Gosling is on record as saying he expects Java to be overtaken before very long by higher-level languages, which require even fewer (!) human skills. I believe hes on record as having said that hes surprised that Java has lasted this long. Its certainly not a skill -- I use the word loosely -- that any young and aspiring Western professional would waste their time on.

It may be true that the next generation of languages being worked on by scientists such as Charles Simonyi will take even longer than we currently expect to become commercial. Most of us are dismayed that progress has been as slow as it has. Still, what bright student would bet their earning potential that Simonyi et al wont finally make a breakthrough? In the meantime, were stuck with decreasing ability levels among new Java programmers, which is a Catch-22 situation&
Posted by furl12 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cool to cold
Ive been noticing the same trend as the author of the article. We always expect a little drop-off after a new, new thing ages, but this is more than that.

My theory (were all entitled to one) is that Java suffers from the same problems as COBOL, without sharing all of COBOLs benefits. Java is basically aimed at the entry-level (i.e. cheap labor) market -- which isnt to say that there arent some superb programmers who use both languages. But to meet the needs of that market its been unavoidable that it is a highly constrained resource hog. If you try and extend its functionality, you end up with the neither-fish-nor-fowl-nor-good-red-flesh mess that killed COBOL or PL/I or ADA or any other of those antique languages.

Unlike COBOL, there is no consistency across platforms and possession of the skill offers no security for the future. Not too many people believe that there will be much Java around a decade from now, let alone three or four decades. James Gosling is on record as saying he expects Java to be overtaken before very long by higher-level languages, which require even fewer (!) human skills. I believe hes on record as having said that hes surprised that Java has lasted this long. Its certainly not a skill -- I use the word loosely -- that any young and aspiring Western professional would waste their time on.

It may be true that the next generation of languages being worked on by scientists such as Charles Simonyi will take even longer than we currently expect to become commercial. Most of us are dismayed that progress has been as slow as it has. Still, what bright student would bet their earning potential that Simonyi et al wont finally make a breakthrough? In the meantime, were stuck with decreasing ability levels among new Java programmers, which is a Catch-22 situation&
Posted by furl12 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.