Thursday, April 02, 2009

Java's Centre of Gravity Has Shifted

I was amused to read this slant on the rumours of IBM's takeover of Sun.

No, it wasn't industry analysts who were being asked their views on the merger. It was Rod Johnson, original developer of the Spring framework and CEO of SpringSource.

SpringSource isn't an IBM or an Oracle in size. Outside of the most tech-savvy segment of the Java development community, SpringSource and Rod Johnson are virtual unknowns. Yet the press was beating a path to this man's door. That in itself was somewhat surprising. Even more surprising was that Rod's reaction to what should have been major industry news was rather ho-hum. His reasoning was that in recent times, Java middleware has been influenced more by Open Source and independent developers than by large corporations, so it really doesn't matter either way if the merger goes ahead or not.

I tend to agree, with one caveat. The roadmap for an Open Source Java is still murky, and I'd like this to be clarified before I'm willing to yawn at the irrelevant plans of corporate titans. There are those like Stephen Colebourne who have almost a conspiracy theory about Sun's plans for Java. While I hope they're wrong, I too would like to see an open Java 7 specification that can be implemented by anyone and be certified as such.

If I can't have an open Java specification, I'm willing to settle for at least one safely Open Source (i.e., GPL-ed) implementation of Java, but I'm disappointed even there. Java is still not 100% Open Source. It still suffers from "encumbered code". There are a few libraries that have not been released under the GPL, and that is a lingering source of worry.

But in the main, Rod Johnson is right. A few years ago, JBoss began to shift the centre of gravity of Java away from the Weblogics of the J2EE world towards a more lightweight, Open Source implementation of J2EE. Today, that wrenching movement has continued with the marginalisation of J2EE itself.

I believe that Spring and Tomcat are ringing the death knell for heavyweight Java. If Java becomes a 100% open platform with a completely open specification and at least one completely GPL-ed implementation, then it won't matter which industry heavyweight buys which. It will be a mating of dinosaurs in the age of mammals.

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