Oracle to put Java at its heart

Boy, it sure was polite of Sun and Oracle to wait until the day I got back from my vacation to announce their merger, wasn't it? I fulminated gloomily about this possibility before I left, but now that I've spent a day absorbing the news, I'm ... slightly less gloomy.

There have been all sorts of reasons floated for exactly why Oracle would buy Sun; some of the more cynical interpretations saw the move as purely defensive, to stop IBM from coming back and cutting another deal once heads had cooled. (The move apparently did come as something of a shock to both IBM and Microsoft.) But I guess I don't see any reason not to take this bit from the FAQ Oracle put out on the merger as at least a start on the company's thinking:

Oracle plans to engineer and deliver an integrated system -- applications to disk -- where all the pieces fit and work together, so customers do not have to do it themselves. Our customers have been asking us to step up to a broader role to reduce complexity, risk, and cost by delivering a highly-optimized, standards-based product stack. Oracle plans to deliver that benefit ... Oracle's ownership of two key Sun software assets, Java and Solaris, is expected to provide our customers with significant benefit. Java is one of the computer industry's best known brands and most widely deployed technologies. Oracle Fusion Middleware is built on top of Sun's Java language and software.

TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld says that Larry Ellison has always wanted to be the Steve Jobs of the enterprise, and the vision outlined in that FAQ seems along those lines. You'll be able to buy an Oracle database/enterprise server gizmo with Solaris as the OS and Java powering the applications (and who knows, maybe even with a SPARC chip inside, though the smart money seems to be against it), and it will Just Work, most of the time, without all the need for messy integration by hand at your end. (And for those times in which it doesn't Just Work, Oracle's support team will be there, for which you will pay handsomely.)

If that sounds familiar, it's exactly the sort of integration of Java with profitable products that's always been Sun's goal for making money off of the language, but which the company has never quite been able pull off. The problem with Sun over the last, oh, five or ten years, is that it's never really been able to make money off the great stuff it makes. If there's one thing that Oracle does well, it's make money off of great stuff, much of which it has purchased rather than developing in-house.

So in that sense, this is good for Java, in that it's in the hands of a profitable company that has reason to invest resources into the platform. But from the perspective of Java developers who don't work with Oracle or Oracle products, the road ahead might be a bit bumpy. Java is open source now, a move that can't be undone, and obviously it's to Oracle's interests to keep Java as a popular general-purpose programming language out in the marketplace -- that creates a wide pool of developers who will be interested in working with Oracle's Solaris/Java-based platform, and who will try to convince their bosses to buy it. But with Java set to become a key part of a number of Oracle product lines, the company might focus its resources on aspects of the platform that fit that vision -- on the enterprise rather than the client or mobile platforms, on performance rather than end-user ease-of-use. I have a hard time seeing JavaFX as something Oracle would be as excited about as Sun seemed to be, for instance.

Moreover, while it's been problematic over the past few years for Java to be stewarded by a relatively weak company, that's also given opportunities for other community members to shape its future. Now that the platform is in the hands of a strong company -- and one that is archrivals with another heavily Java-invested company that happened to be Sun's spurned suitor to boot -- it will be very interesting to see how things in the JCP work out.