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"15 Ways Oracle Can Make Java Better" - A Dissent on the Approach

Posted by editor on February 10, 2010 at 9:47 AM PST

Somehow, in my meanderings yesterday, I came upon Darryl K. Taft's presentation on eWeek, titled Application Development: 15 Ways Oracle Can Make Java Better (and Improve Its Stance with Developers). The first slide from this presentation that came up on my browser was the last, Slide 16, which is titled "Really Treat Java as 'One of the Crown Jewels'." When I went back and reviewed the entire presentation, I saw a lot very good points. The question I have is: do we really want the solutions to Java's problems to come directly from Oracle? Or, would we prefer Oracle to take a more hands-off approach than Sun did, and instead stimulate change through supporting a vibrant community?

Of course, on can ask: can an independent community really address big issues? Isn't a benevolent dictatorship much more efficient? I'd say that Linux is evidence that you don't need a benevolent dictatorship in order to advance an open source technology.

It's very early on in the history of the merged Sun-Oracle. So, it's not clear what direction Oracle will ultimately take. Overall, it seems to me that Darryl advocates the benevolent dictatorship approach. But I think in this case that approach has a risk of backfiring, because many in the Java community distrust the slick and powerful corporate giant. So, the arguments that impeded Java's progress today (what should and shouldn't be in Java 7, etc.) -- if Oracle simply dictates the decisions, even if the decisions are well thought out and make perfect sense for Java's future -- that's going to turn off a lot of the Java community. So, largely for this reason, I don't know if the overall approach Darryl advocates is the right one, for Oracle or for Java -- despite the seriousness of some of the issues Darryl documents in the first 15 slides of his presentation.

Getting back to the concluding Slide 16 ("Really Treat Java as 'One of the Crown Jewels'") -- here's the opening statement to Oracle:

Overall, make up your mind and communicate clearly about your strategy for Java's future.

OK, yes, that's a good thing. But, isn't the essence of openness to say "nothing changes immediately, we want the Java community to continue to be the primary force behind the future of Java"? Thus far, Oracle has taken great care to not step into Java with a corporate-centric vision. Is this not a good thing?

The next statement in the slide confirms that Oracle has indeed been quite "hands-off" thus far:

For good or bad, Oracle did not do much to prune anything significant from Sun's many software strategies (some of which were flawed).

Again, my question is: who do we want to do the pruning? Who's to decide what should be pruned? Clearly, the author believes he knows which software strategies were flawed and should have been pruned by Sun. But will everyone in the Java community agree with his -- or Oracle's -- assessments? Would the to-be-pruned project communities agree? Again, my question: do we really want the corporate entity Oracle to start making these decisions?

Moving on in the slide:

The notion of supporting three IDEs is confusing. It didn't really work for BEA and while it sort of sounds good here, it's messy.

A few months ago, I created a poll that asked Which IDE do you use? In that poll, I neglected to include IntelliJ IDEA (because most of my communications as java.net editor were with NetBeans and Eclipse users). I'll tell you, the push-back from that exclusion was immense. The poll was boycotted by many IntelliJ IDEA users.

Even if it's "messy" for Oracle to support three IDEs (JDeveloper, Eclipse, and NetBeans, I assume), I don't see how that's a problem. From the developer community point of view, I think it's great, actually. As for "confusing" -- when you go to a grocery store, do you find it confusing to see many different varieties of vegetables and fruits? Even if it is confusing, don't we enjoy the opportunity to choose!?

Onward:

It's not possible to focus equally on every one of the many initiatives, which means that some things get starved and perhaps die in a year anyway.

That's how marketplaces work. In a great many areas, Oracle is saying "we're going to keep our hands off" and let market reality take its course. 80% of open source projects fail. 90% or more of new businesses fail within their first five years. 95% of people who try out futures/derivatives trading end up losing money and quitting. This is how the marketplace works. That some initiatives starve and die is normal. It would be abnormal for all or most of them to succeed. Oracle is just taking a hands-off approach, letting the nature of the marketplace make the final decisions. IMO, anyway...

Finally:

As Oracle EVP Thomas Kurian said, "Java is one of the crown jewels" Oracle got in the Sun acquisition. Treat it as such.

From what I see so far, Oracle is doing exactly that: it's treating Java as a crown jewel so valuable that it doesn't want to tamper with Java as an independent organism. I see Oracle as having listened to many unofficial messages from Sun, and from the Java community, during the nine months of acquisition wait time, stating that with respect to Java, Oracle wasn't acquiring a "product" -- rather, it was acquiring an opportunity to invest in a vibrant, open technology, that still has immense growth potential going forward, if only it is allowed to proceed within the organic, multi-faceted realm that has hitherto fostered its growth. Thus far, I see that message as having been heard by Oracle.

No dictatorial statement of Oracle's "strategy for Java's future"? That's exactly what I myself was hoping for, post-acquistion. Let's let the Java community itself make the decisions on Java's future. The best thing Oracle can do, in my view, is set Java even more free of corporate guardianship than was the case under Sun. This means supporting the Java community, but not dictating the result.

Hopefully, the community will ultimately find the right solutions to most of the problems Philip delineates in his presentation -- solutions to the problems the community decides most urgently need solving, that is. Yes, set the JCP free (as Philip says in Slide 7) and provide Apache an unrestricted Java TCK (as Philip says in Slide 3). Doing these things frees Java further into the hands of the community.

Progress may be slower when it is led by a diverse, fractious community. But, the community stays interested and more involved that way. That's a healthy situation for Oracle to try to promote, in my view.


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Comments

You made me curious and I

You made me curious and I looked at it. Well, there are some good points, but when I read "Merge NetBeans and Eclipse" I wonder whether the author is an engineer or a pointy-haired boss...

That slide surprised me too!

That slide surprised me too!