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Zeichick’s Take: Whose job is it to maintain Java?



Alan Zeichick
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October 22, 2010 —  Apple makes really cool, really sexy notebook computers. This week, the company unveiled two models of its ultra-lightweight MacBook Air—one weighing a featherweight 2.3 pounds, the other a mere 2.9 pounds. The emotional right side of my brain is demanding, “Buy one! Buy one now!” while the analytical left side is screaming, “Shut up! You don’t need one!”

While my inner monologue rages, let’s turn our cerebral hemispheres to a stealthy announcement by Apple:

“As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the Java runtime ported by Apple and that ships with Mac OS X is deprecated. Developers should not rely on the Apple-supplied Java runtime being present in future versions of Mac OS X. The Java runtime shipping in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, will continue to be supported and maintained through the standard support cycles of those products.”

What that means, according to casual statements by Apple (including an e-mail allegedly from Steve Jobs), is that the company is tired of maintaining its own Java runtime, especially since that runtime is often based on out-of-date specifications.

The Steve Jobs e-mail says:

Sun (now Oracle) supplies Java for all other platforms. They have their own release schedules, which are almost always different than ours, so the Java we ship is always a version behind. This may not be the best way to do it.

Why was Apple maintaining its own Java? Historically, the Mac was a niche platform unworthy of much attention from Sun—and when you coupled that with Apple’s well-known penchant for complete control over its software, it made sense for Apple to do its own port.

Today, things have changed. The Mac is a much more significant presence in the desktop market, particularly in the consumer space. But that still begs the question: Who should maintain particular Java runtimes, such as the one for Mac OS X?

Should it be Oracle, as the owner of the Java specifications? But if so, what’s the financial motivation? Or should it be the platform owner, in this case Apple, who clearly has a vested interest in making sure that Mac OS X sports a first-class, up-to-date Java SE runtime?

In my view, it’s Apple’s responsibility, not Oracle’s.

Since Oracle hasn’t said that it will take over maintaining the Mac version of Java, it’s hard to understand why Apple has unilaterally deprecated its Java port. Unless, of course, the company is saying that Java is irrelevant to its plans. Both sides of my brain are in agreement that this is the real message here.

Alan Zeichick is editorial director of SD Times. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zeichick. Read his blog at ztrek.blogspot.com.




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