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Oracle Chief Ellison Anointed Next Leader of Java Community

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made a surprise appearance at the annual JavaOne conference in San Francisco Tuesday. Ellison joined Sun Microsystems Co-Founder Scott McNealy onstage during the opening keynote in an effort to reassure developers that the Java platform would be in safe in Oracle's hands.

McNealy invited Ellison to the stage, calling him "the next leader of the Java community."

Both execs avoided discussing any details about Sun's future after the acquisition, focusing instead on Java. "I don't think you're going to see a lot of change in Java coming from Oracle," Ellison said. Referring to Oracle's long-standing support for Java and its frequent partnerships with Sun, he added, "If you're curious about what's going to happen in the future, I think you have to look in the past."

Ellison pointed out that Oracle's middleware strategy is "based 100 percent on Java" and that Oracle's Fusion suite of applications is built entirely on Java. "I think we've invested more in Java than anyone else in terms of dollars," Ellison said. "We are going to continue to invest and to accelerate our investment. We see increased investment in Java coming from the Oracle-Sun combination, and an expansion of the overall community."

This was Ellison's first public appearance since the announcement in late April of Oracle's intention to acquire Sun for $7.4 billion.

Ellison said that he has been meeting with different groups inside Sun, talking about the possibility of the OpenOffice group generating JavaFX-based libraries. OpenOffice is an open source office suite created and supported by Sun. The JavaFX platform is Sun's runtime and tools combo for content authors and Web developers building rich Internet applications (RIAs).

"We'd like to see accelerated development based on this exciting new platform: Java with JavaFX," Ellison said. "Going to JavaFX is going to allow us to build fantastic UIs [user interfaces] in Java...We're committed to seeing JavaFX exploited throughout Oracle and throughout Sun."

Given the presence of Adobe's Flash and AIR runtimes, and Microsoft's moves to expand Silverlight, many observers have questioned whether JavaFX will gain critical mass. "I don't think it's surprising that Ellison would like the idea of JavaFX," said James Governor, principal analyst and founder of RedMonk. "Most major ISVs in the business intelligence space now rely on front ends built using the Adobe Flash platform. SAP, for example, is a major consumer of Flash. Meanwhile Microsoft continues its push into richer media with Silverlight. Why would Ellison acquire an end-to-end stack and then double down on it? In the keynote he mentioned rebuilding OpenOffice with JavaFX functionality; clearly Oracle's ERP apps might benefit from some of the same treatment."

In his praise of JavaFX, Ellison included a sharp criticism of AJAX tools, which he said programmers currently "suffer" with. "Ellison's comments about AJAX were pretty off the mark," said industry analyst Neil Ward-Dutton. "If you look at who's building rich Web apps right now, they use AJAX (and Flex, etc.) because it's close to the tech they're used to using," he said. "Interactive-experience designers know Dynamic HMTL, XML, JavaScript, ActionScript; they don't know Java, and they don't want to know Java. JavaFX has some nice features but it's coming from way behind the other alternatives, and the availability of skills and the size of the community are key challenges for it right now."

Ellison also talked up the possibility of increasing the number of Java-based devices. He mentioned Android phones, and suggested that Java-based netbooks might emerge

Governor said he didn't find any of Ellison's remarks surprising, but he was slightly less sanguine about the impact Oracle will have on the Java community. "Historically, Oracle has been more sales- than community-driven," he said, "so it's very hard to predict what impact acquiring Sun will have on that culture. We will have to wait and see."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.

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