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Consider the familiar pattern: As a technology matures and as organizations increasingly invest in that technology, the need to preserve its common standards and practices also increases. The status quo sets in, as that technology's major stakeholders grow progressively more unwelcoming to innovative ideas. As innovation finds other outlets, the technology grows less relevant and, with time, goes the way of the dinosaurs.
Has Java reached that stage already? Or is Java just now starting to really take off? Those are fair questions considering Java has enjoyed seven years of growth as a programming language and environment. Java has about three million active developers, has gained acceptance as a staple of the enterprise computing landscape, and has become the lingua franca of university computer science curricula. With all this success, has Java reached its zenith? Or will the language's success evolve into a nonlinear explosion of further adoption and ubiquitous use?
These questions prove especially timely as Sun begins to loosen its reins on Java. It used to be that Java meant Sun Microsystems—that all progress in Java depended on Sun's support and endorsement. Those who still believe that see a cloudy future for Java, with Sun's sagging revenue growth and, hence, impaired ability to financially back the technology. In a recent interview with CBROnline, Java inventor and Sun Fellow James Gosling admitted this much: "It's hard to criticize [the C sharp language] because it is such an obvious [Java] clone. The real threat from Microsoft is [that] they can out fund us. They fund developers...Sun is not in a position where we can buy partners" (from "Gosling: Microsoft's Java Threat is Financial, Not Technical," Gavin Clarke (October 4, 2002)).
Whatever Sun's future holds, the company no longer wields sole sway over Java's direction. Over the past four years, the company has quietly shepherded Java's growth and has vested increasing control over the language's future with Java community members through the Java Community Process, or JCP.
The JCP's key role is to define and maintain the specifications that define Java. You become a JCP member when you sign the Java Specification Participation Agreement, or JSPA, thereby agreeing to follow the JCP's rules and regulations. Rob Gingell, Sun's chief engineer and fellow, who chairs the JCP, notes that presently 58 percent of Java specification requests, or JSRs, are led by Java community members that are not Sun employees. If that trend continues, Sun will have less and less say over Java. Simultaneously, Java's future will depend more on the JCP's effectiveness.
Since constant innovation is the only known antidote to going the way of the dinosaurs, how effective is the JCP when it comes to innovation? Or, is the JCP friendly to new ideas that raise Java to the next level? Does it frown upon truly original, radical thought and favor instead small, incremental change to what already exists in Java? And, most important: Why would an innovator need a community process?