The Java platform has "appeared rudderless for the last few years," said Google's chief Java architect, Josh Bloch, speaking at the Red Hat Middleware 2020 virtual conference. "A malaise [has fallen] over the community and the end is not in sight."
While Bloch admitted that the platform, which supports not only the Java language but other languages that run on the Java Virtual Machine such as Groovy and JavaFX, remains popular, he also stated that it has been beset by a number of problems.
"Technical and licensing disputes over the last few years have been highly detrimental. They've sapped the energy of the community and caused plenty of bad press," he said.
The problems around Java that Bloch mentioned largely predate Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems, which oversaw the Java development process, and Bloch called on Oracle to step up as the prime steward of the language and associated platform software.
"Oracle should take the lead of Java once again," he said.
Bloch cited a number of shortcomings: the length of time between new versions of Java continue to grow; Java 7's ship date keeps slipping back; the future of the Java Community Process (JCP) remains murky. He noted that the code base is, for the first time, in danger of being forked.
Perhaps the largest drag on Java is its myriad licensing conditions, Bloch said. "The main thing that is hurting Java now is that there is a jungle of licensing," he said. As an example, he pointed to the existence of Apache Java Harmony, an alternative open source implementation of Java that was developed to avoid Sun's licensing restrictions.
Bloch singled out the Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) as stagnating and falling behind the times. J2ME was not designed for the amount of power that devices have today. "It doesn't make sense to use a restrictive platform," he said, adding that the platform is in no shape to compete with the likes of Apple's iPhone.
At least one index of programming language usage has found that Java is on a downward trend. Tiobe Software surveys the usage of programming languages by checking the number of mentions each language gets on web search engines. For the first time in four years, Java, normally the most-cited language, has been surpassed in popularity by the C programming language. Tiobe attributes this decline to the growing use of other, simpler, languages that use the Java Virtual Machine.
Oracle has been under increasing scrutiny for its handling of Sun's open-source technology, not only with Java, but with MySQL as well. Not helping with the perception, Java founder James Gosling has left the company.
Yet Bloch sees Oracle as Java's saviour. He pointed to the December 2007 resolution that Oracle put forth to the JCP of "an open independent vendor-neutral Standards Organization where all members participate on a level playing field."
Bloch said that the future success of Java would depend on this vendor-neutral setting, and he said he saw no reason why Oracle would no longer support this move. He also called on Oracle to simplify Java licensing.
The company could also provide a "true leader" for Java, one who "commands the respect of the technical community and one who can get releases out on a regular schedule with a clear focus," Bloch said.
Despite these issues, Bloch nonetheless expressed optimism for the future of the language, noting that any technology with as much inertia as Java will be around for a while. "The king is not dead. The king is alive and well. He has a slight cold," he said.
Later in the web conference, Vijay Seetharaman, Hewlett-Packard's global Java capability lead manager for the company's enterprise services division, echoed many of Bloch's concerns, noting that the development of the language has stagnated and that it has been outgunned in the mobile space. But, like, Bloch, he saw Java as continuing to be a presence for some time to come.
"Java will remain a dominant platform in the enterprise space," he said.