Year in Review: Java development in 2009

New directions for the Java platform

We won't see a new Java SE platform release in 2009, but stop your grumbling: the Java ecosystem is still evolving in interesting new directions. Andrew Glover welcomes in the new year with a look at the forces most likely to shape change, challenge the status quo, and redefine Java technology in the year ahead.

Prediction is the art of making an educated guess about what the future may hold. When it comes to a technology like the Java platform, the "educated" aspect comes from studying the past and identifying the patterns that run deeper than mere fad. So far, JavaWorld's Year in Review series has looked closely at events and trends that defined Java in 2008 -- the language, the platform, and supporting tools. In this last article in the series I'll look forward, to what we can expect from Java technology, and the Java industry, in 2009.

Based on these clues, and some key indicators from recent years, it is easy to see that Java technology is far from sitting still. In fact, as I suggested around this time last year, Java is an evolving ecosystem -- and if anything the pace of its evolution appears to be picking up. The outlook for Java in 2009 is intriguing, to say the least.

Sun sees a future in software

The closing months of 2008 brought to light important issues related to Java's corporate progenitor and occasional gate keeper, Sun Microsystems. First, as most know, Sun had a poor year on the financial front. The company generated hefty revenues but profits fell drastically, culminating in a series of layoffs late in the year. The downsizing sent a proverbial shudder across the Web, with some pundits predicting that Sun might be acquired. While the company continues to wrestle with questions of revenue and identity, the developer community is left to wonder what would happen to Java, should such a deal materialize.

A few likely suspects have surfaced as potential buyers, namely IBM, HP, Fujitsu, and (amusingly) Microsoft. What any of these potential suitors would do to Java is something of a crapshoot. IBM's track record in supporting Java is unparalleled, but you could say the exact opposite of Microsoft. Two things are important to remember in the face of these buyout rumors: One, they come around every three years or so, so caveat emptor. Two, Java is much more than a language, or even a single platform, anymore: it's a veritable ecosystem, spawning many types of businesses in a myriad of verticals. As such, Java today is by no means tied to Sun's fate. Even if Sun did release Java to another company in 2009, I doubt the impact on the technology would be great.

More interesting than buyout rumors is the fact that Java technology may be Sun's best bet for success, going forward. Signs point to the possibility that if the company has a future it will be in software. CEO Jonathan Schwartz has stated that Sun is "no longer simply a workstation company," and in 2007, Sun changed its sticker symbol from SUNW (for Sun workstations) to JAVA.

NetBeans comes of age

The IDE wars appear to be coming to a new head, as NetBeans becomes a formidable contender in the enterprise development space. NetBeans matured dramatically in 2007 and 2008, incorporating new tools support for Groovy, Ruby, Python, and even JavaFX. Given Sun's newly bullish outlook on software and platforms, we can anticipate further enhancements and tools for NetBeans 6.5x in 2009.

Sun has also recently restructured into two new operating units in "recognition of the comprehensive role software plays in the company's growth strategy." One new business unit is centered on application platform software, which (according to a November 2008 press release) "will build on Sun's open source leadership position to capitalize on the global market's demand for open application platforms for everything from databases to business integration services on servers, desktops and handheld devices." (Think MySQL, GlassFish, and pretty much anything related to Java.) Another unit is focused on cloud computing and developer platforms, which "will build upon Sun's existing online developer community ... to firmly establish the company as a leader in cloud computing and grow this area into a significant driver of future revenue." The NetBeans IDE is, of course, a core aspect of this strategy.

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