Is the sun setting on Java?

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in 2010, many wondered what would happen to the products that there was no obvious use for: OpenOffice and Java among them. Six years on, and those fears appear to have been realised. OpenOffice was discontinued and then jettisoned (see opposite), and some fear Java is following a similar trajectory.

Java EE is badly in need of an update, according to industry insiders, but user groups claim Oracle is stalling, amid fears the company might take it down a proprietary path. One former Oracle employee told PC Pro that work on the platform has been virtually non-existent.

More than three years after the launch of Java EE 7, plans for EE 8 have yet to move beyond the draft stage and the apparent inertia has prompted a user group EE Guardians to petition Oracle to take action.

The lack of progress prompted one developer we interviewed to walk away from the project entirely. "Until two months ago, I was working at Oracle and from inside Oracle it was obvious to everyone that for over six months the work to move ahead with Java EE 8 wasn't really happening," said Reza Rahman, a former Java technologist with Oracle, now working with consultant firm CapTech. "The activity had dropped off to almost nothing."

"It was disconcerting because I was getting concerned phone calls from all these people that work on these specifications and it was really difficult... How could I continue telling people that 'everything is OK' and 'not to worry' when it really wasn't an honest answer? It was getting harder and in the end I decided 'I can't do this' and left Oracle."

Oracle insists it is committed to the platform and claims it will address the community's concerns at its JavaOne conference in September. "Oracle is committed to Java and has a very well-defined proposal for the next version of the Java EE specification Java EE 8," company spokesperson Mike Moeller told PC Pro in a statement. "That will support developers as they seek to build new applications that are designed using micro-services on large-scale distributed computing and container-based environments on the cloud."

Yet Oracle's statement rings hollow for many, not least because the company has made similar assurances before, shortly before shuttering the products in question.

Outside help?

Oracle isn't the only player in the Java EE environment, but it remains the admiral of the fleet. While other companies can take the helm of their own projects, they still have to work within the Java Community Process, which Oracle controls.

Red Hat and IBM, for example, work with Java EE on their own projects and there are various toolkits and licences based around the platform, but Oracle holds licences that mean other companies can't take the overall specification forward by themselves.

"As long as you work within the licence, you can continue to use Java EE implementations today without being a member of the Java Community Process or the Executive Committee," said Mark Little, Red Hat's vice president for engineering, who, along with IBM developers, is working on a project called MicroProfile to make it easier for developers to use Java EE technologies and APIs. "Limitations only really kick in if you want to extend or somehow modify one of the standards or perhaps claim Java EE compliance without running through the certification process," he said. "With Java EE, we do have to be careful what we can do from a licence/legal perspective, but those are things all open-source projects should think about."