Long time member of the Java community. Author of JHTML and the SmugMug Java API, worked with the DZone crew for a while and Product Services Manager at Genuitec. Also the creator of The "Break it Down" Blog and comedy site Up My Own Ass. Riyad has posted 6 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile

Is Java Becoming Irrelevant?

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Sun Microsystems announced today that it would be laying off 6,000 employees (18% of it’s workforce) in an attempt to better realign itself with “global economic climate”. The company will be focusing on:
  • Application Development (?)
  • Systems Platform (Solaris, Glassfish, Java, etc.)
  • Infrastructure Development (Server Hardware, etc.)

With Sun’s stock (JAVA) falling from 20 at the same time last year to around 4 today it isn’t much of a surprise that the company has had to reel back costs and rethink some strategies going forward.

You have to wonder if the Java/Open Source-everything strategy Schwartz pushed is paying off or just making the open source folks happy while loosing Sun footing in the servers and platforms market.

With a strong push by the community and interested parties such as RedHat, IBM and Oracle, betting their server and platform offerings on Java/Linux and trying to drive that effort through the OpenJDK project it’s plausible to think that Sun’s own “official” Java release could become less and less important as we move forward.

Eclipse began this trend by completely invalidating the Swing UI stack in the JDK with the introduction of both SWT/JFace and the Eclipse platform itself (implicitly bringing along the importance of OSGi as an industry-leading design force)

With RedHat/JBoss (RHT) hovering around 18, Oracle/WebLogic (ORCL) floating around 16 and IBM/WebSphere (IBM) balancing around 80, you can imagine there are some pretty powerful companies, completely vested in Java, that will take this omen of Sun’s slide as a moment to jump forward and become the new stewards of the direction for what used to be a language, but is now a platform.

You can even see some disruptive forces in the Java space like Spring getting their foot in the door and eventually kicking it wide open with “easier solutions” to enterprise Java - that so far the community has mostly agreed with as seen by it’s penetration.

Spring in and of itself is a platform; another means of approaching the Java development problems. Another approach to how to develop and deploy your Java applications (enterprise, client or otherwise).

The purpose of pointing all these pieces out is that there are a lot of big elephants in the room, with their businesses and revenue streams tied directly to the same platform and the one-time stoic steward of this platform is slowly showing signs of weakness. I’m proporting that we are going to see some interesting transitions starting in Java land; not beginning with direct attacks on Java or attempts to wrestle the language out of Sun’s control, but instead peripheral attacks on the language by devaluing it as a language itself and pushing forward as a platform or an engine as a means of execution for other languages controlled by other sources.

One quick example is Spring recently aquiring the Groovy/Grails camp. Not directly Java related, but gives them more leverage in the platform space because it is JVM friendly.

Interestingly enough in an attempt to give longer legs to Java, the Sun team is working hard on opening up the JVM to host alternative dynamic languages; for example, JRuby is becoming hugely popular.

With all these new doors opening, the key to controlling Java may not be through a kung-fu grip directly against the base platform, but by controlling the most popular (and best integrated) 1-off language that becomes the Next Big Thing(tm).

If there is a pending invalidation of the platform I’ve been curious why Sun has been whole-heartedly helping this effort forward with the work on the VM boosting success in hosting additional languages. Certainly Java-proper has enough leverage and penetration now (being through the hype-dissolution-acceptance cycle) that providing the ability to host additional dynamic languages isn’t going to help that penetration by leaps and bounds (I’m talking enterprise commitments end-to-end).

If Sun had a proprietary grip on Java and it’s deployment, then hosting more things on the platform is a great idea, because you still need the platform… but Sun doesn’t have that type of grip over Java. They have a commercial lock-in on the platform side by giving you a do-or-die option (GPL or Commercial License) but beyond that, if you are simply deploying solutions on the platform, Sun has no leverage over you any longer and you are free to innovate right past Sun’s control.

An example might be Linux in this regard. IBM, RedHat, Oracle and a few other big powerhouses all rely on Linux for their company strategies and while it serves as the platform for their technology stacks, Linux (the community, Linus or otherwise) have zero leverage or garuntee of benefit from that relationship. Linux in this case is irrelevant, no one is getting rich off of it, no one controls it and no one can. The gelatenous mass that is “Linux” has no leverage over itself or against these companies if it wanted, it’s a brain-dead participant in the server-stack-war that is being dragged along for the ride because it allows itself to be.

Won’t Sun share this same fate as Java advances and continues to become a platform for platforms. Spring with Groovy, RedHat with Python, IBM with what… PHP? Let’s give Oracle Ruby then (all hypotheticals)… at this point all the big boys now have their own “secret sauce”, it’s all rehosted on Java, Sun has no control over these new Next Big Thing(tm) and it’s platform will just get dragged along for the ride in the form of OpenJDK, ontop of Linux, hosting some proprietary solution that is made relevant by the huge backing force behind it.

We are likely going to see a resurgance of programming-language wars starting up soon as each company picks it mascot, builds tools around it, integration platforms for it and starts pushing their solution as God’s Honest Truth. The question won’t be “Java, Ruby, PHP?” it will be “IBM, RedHat, Oracle… Spring?”

Everything goes in cycles, we did this a decade ago, we’re bound to do it again.

(Original Article)


Published at DZone with permission of its author, Riyad Kalla.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Riyad Kalla replied on Thu, 2008/11/20 - 6:17pm in response to: Manjuka Soysa


Swing didn't lose to SWT, Swing lost to (The Eclipse Platform) because it wasn't part of something bigger that could offer the same value.

Note that "lose" here doesn't mean "it's dead, move on", but in 5 years, it will be a no-brainer. Even today I'd argue that new startups doing client side development would need to find reasons *not* to use Eclipse as opposed to evaluating it 1:1 with straight Swing/JDK work in a head to head comparison.

If it's any consolation, I actually prefer Swing as an API... I've always worked in it, feel more comfortable with it, and like the flexibility of it; but when has that ever made a difference? You just can't ignore the non-stop locomotive that is the "eclipse" movement when compared to Sun's 79-year-upgrade cycle when it came to Swing improvements.

It took 10 years for an app framework because it was clear without it, no one would even use the phrase "Swing" anymore, and like 8 years to fix the repainting/double buffering (grey rectangle) issue.

That's great that it's fixed, but the list of enhancements isn't empty, it's just replace with 9 or 10 other things we "must have" that Eclipse is delivering just by sheer force of the development effort behind it while Swing isn't (NOTE: I'm using Swing vs the whole Eclipse platform here on purpose).

As much as I might like Swing or the new App Framework that's been deployed... I have no idea where... if I have to make money and run my business, I'm not risking it it on the software platform I choose and Eclipse has clearly shown that it's a safe bet everywhere from mobile apps to dev tools to client apps, etc. etc.

Is it perfect? No... is SWT the best ever? No way, not a chance... does that matter? Nope. Will something else replaec it? Maybe something from Microsoft, but you'd need a massive commercial force (read: money) behind it.

Keep in mind, you might have chosen Swing on your last project, and I'm sure it was an awesome project, but if Boeing writes their design tools ontop fo Eclipse so all their departments can be normalized - you just can't ignore the financial support there.

Manjuka, honestly, in 5 years, do you see Sun *suddenly* dumping millions of dollars into Swing and Swing App Platform and NetBeans to not only product a product but a community and commercial support that could rival Eclipse? I don't... their cash-cow is servers; that's why the model of Eclipse (not making it any one single company's burden) worked so well for growth.

Steve Perkins replied on Fri, 2008/11/21 - 12:13pm

We can go back and forth until the end of time with, "This article sucks"... and, "No it doesn't, let me clarify...".  I think the moral of the story is simply to not combine serious articles with silly titles that don't quite match.  There have been "Is Java Dying?" articles for over 10 years now, and it's such a cheap attention-grabbing trick that the discussion usually starts and ends with the title alone when you go that route.

Moreover, the Swing vs. SWT flamewar has consumed WAY too much oxygen here.  Seriously... apart from writing IDE's or other developer tools, how much serious commercial development takes place in the Java desktop space anyway?  If you're writing a desktop application for a general audience, you're probably using a Microsoft toolchain.  Embedding an 80-meg JRE, or having Launch4j prompt for the proper download, is fine for internal apps... but the general public audience expects "MyApp.exe" to be a simple and self-contained double-click.  You CAN conceal things to an extent with installer programs, but that quite simply hasn't caught on in widespread use.  Sorry, but it's a debate over a very tiny portion of the relevant market.


Tony Siciliani replied on Tue, 2008/11/25 - 9:40am

"I think the moral of the story is simply to not combine serious articles with silly titles that don't quite match.  There have been "Is Java Dying?" articles for over 10 years now, and it's such a cheap attention-grabbing trick that the discussion usually starts and ends with the title alone when you go that route."



Jeroen Wenting replied on Fri, 2008/11/28 - 8:31am

"Swing didn't lose to SWT, Swing lost to (The Eclipse Platform) because it wasn't part of something bigger that could offer the same value."

utter nonsense. Hardly anyone uses Eclipse RCP except for the creation of Eclipse plugins and some applications geared towards IT people (a UML modeller here, a JSF wizard there), and those pretty much exclusively taylored towards Java developers and their team members/leaders.

Outside that environment Eclipse is rarely if ever seen.

Dharamvir Gaba replied on Thu, 2008/12/04 - 2:00am

i think any java developer never wish that SUN collapse.

Yochanan Berkowitz replied on Mon, 2011/08/29 - 2:06pm

Yochanan Berkowitz

Yochanan Berkowitz replied on Mon, 2011/08/29 - 2:04pm

Selling networks server is one quick move advantage of Sun Microsystems. -Yochanan Berkowitz

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