An Unexpected Pleasure
Today’s announcement that IBM is going to join forces and work with Oracle on OpenJDK is good news for Java, and by extension for Eclipse. All of us who live within the Java ecosystem need to recognize that this fundamentally strengthens the platform, enhances the business value of Java and offers the hope of an increased pace of innovation.
Although it will take a while for all of the ramifications and reactions to become clear, at its face the announcement challenges the conventional wisdom that the future of Java is going to be a fractured one. Some recent examples of these expectations can be seen in blog posts like James Governor’s “Java: The Unipolar Moment, On distributed governance for distributed software” and Joseph Ottinger’s “The Future of Java: forking, death, or stasis”. When I read them just a short time ago, I thought they accurately reflected the likeliest outcomes for Java’s sure-to-be fractious future. Now I am much more optimistic that we can get back to innovation.
To me the overarching motivation is obvious. Both IBM and Oracle have a shared interest in assuring their enterprise customers that Java was, is and always will be the safe technology choice that they’ve been selling for the past ten to fifteen years. As much fun and excitement as a further escalation of the “Java Wars” would have been, both companies have a very large vested business interest in combining forces, closing ranks and focusing on reassuring their customers that Java should remain their platform of choice.
This announcement fundamentally alters the equation in at least three important ways.
- The presumption of conflict: Implicit in almost all of the recent writings on the future of Java is the notion that IBM’s interests would lie in direct competition, if not outright conflict with Oracle’s. Many have been assuming that IBM would eventually snap and declare war on Oracle’s Java hegemony, with the battles being fought in places like OSGi, Apache and Eclipse. It is now apparent that is not going to happen. Furthermore, now that IBM is working with Oracle on OpenJDK, we can expect a lot more mutual support within the JCP on driving specifications, especially platform specifications, forward.
- Oracle is focused on reviving the business of Java: In case you hadn’t noticed, Oracle’s stewardship of Java is going to be a significant departure from Sun’s. As Amy Fowler said “…this is a practical company who isn’t suffering from an identity crisis and knows how to make money from software.” A couple of thoughts on the differences: First and foremost Oracle actually has resources to invest in moving Java forward, whereas Sun’s financial weakness prevented forward progress for at least the past three years. Second, Oracle is putting in place the software engineering discipline and process in place to ensure that future releases of Java can happen on a much more reliable and predictable timetable than Sun. Third, Oracle is large enough and confident enough in its execution that it is much more comfortable in striking business deals with its co-opetition such as IBM. It will be darn interesting to see if they are successful in signing up more participants down the road. And finally, there will be less talk about community-driven motivations and more focus on the business.
In my opinion, all but the last of those are unequivocally positive. But Oracle’s current focus on the business at least offers the hope that it may pay community dividends down the road. It is a lot easier for large companies to consider community motivations when they’re profitable and feel that they have momentum on their side. The past couple of years of Java have been years of stalemate, lack of innovation and lost opportunities. Turning that around has to be job one if Oracle is going to see a return on its acquisition.
- This is an inflection point in the Oracle-IBM relationship: If you think back a few years ago, IBM and BEA were two companies who competed fiercely in the Java marketplace, but managed to collaborate on many JCP specifications and in numerous open source projects at places such as Apache and Eclipse. It was a mature industry relationship. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen a similar historical pattern with IBM and Oracle, even after Oracle acquired BEA. This is an important step in the relationship between the two companies, at least in the Java space. Hopefully it is a harbinger of additional collaboration.
The big question is what are going to be the reactions of the other significant players in the Java ecosystem. The actions of Google, SAP and VMware in particular will all be interesting to watch.
Disclaimer: Both IBM and Oracle are Strategic Developer Members of the Eclipse Foundation, with seats on our board of directors. They are first and second place respectively in terms of the number of active committers contributing to Eclipse projects. SAP is also a Strategic Developer Member. Google, VMware are Solutions Members of the Eclipse Foundation.