Oracle may hurt Java much more than it wanted to…

The Blogosphere is heating up on the Lawsuit of Oracle vs. Google. It seems people start to worry a lot about what level of openness they can expect from Java, and what consquences it may have for their projects. I stumbled upon a very interesting thought by Bruce Eckel:

Now, if you are choosing a programing language, aren’t you more likely to consider something truly unencumbered like Ruby or Python — where something like this just wouldn’t happen — than you are Java? Joel West points out a problem that Sun always had — that of semi-openness — which now comes back to bite those that trusted it.

Interesting thought. The current lawsuit does not effect an end user of Java, but an implementor of an alternate virtual machine, so it’s probably a bit over the top at this point in time.

It is, however, interesting what kind of movement such an action can cause. Maybe people will develop an even stronger tendency to avoid Java than they did before. Not only because it has never really become open source, but also because it is now in the hands of a “dark power”.

This train of thought, combined with growing interest in dynamic languages, could raise the traction towards technologies like Ruby or Python.

Not sure I’d think of these in the first place, but you get the idea. If you think about future platforms for your project, why not consider Smalltalk? Over in Smalltalk-land, you can get a lot of what you really need for your projects:

  • Smalltalk has been very influential to all of today’s object oriented languages like Objective-C, Ruby, Python, and, heck, even Java
  • Multiple Decades of stabilizing and evolution
  • Modern and reliable frameworks for web services, web applications, database access and so on
  • You can choose between open source implementations like
  • And commercial offerings like

[Update] In the meantime, ever more blog posts and news articles show up that show how much Oracle is playing a risky game marketing-wise, like “Oracle’s Java lawsuit undermines its open source credibility” by ars technica:

It raises very serious questions about the company’s stewardship of other open source technology that it obtained during the acquisition of Sun. The resulting uncertainty will likely not be conducive to retaining the customers and mindshare that Sun had built around certain open source products. It will also likely have a serious chilling affect on community involvement and third-party contributions. It’s important to recognize that the impact of this lawsuit will be felt far beyond the scope of Java [...]

Oracle is arguably shooting itself in the foot, because Android has helped to restore Java’s relevance as a client-side programming language as well as attract developers. With the lawsuit, Oracle is seriously undermining Java’s prospects for growth outside of the enterprise server software space.

The full article is well worth reading…

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10 thoughts on “Oracle may hurt Java much more than it wanted to…

  1. I think we too many dialects and relatively less libraries in Smalltalk. The former makes it very difficult for new comers to choose one from and get started while the latter makes Smalltalk less attractive than Ruby/Python, etc.
    It’s not that it’s too difficult to build some ground enabling Git/GAE/Twitter/Buzz, etc. so that kids first come to Smalltalk can easily setup something to play with. It’s just who developing Smalltalk are mostly programmers or engineers that has very limited market sense and are not as skillful in gardening a community as Ruby or Python guys.

    Well it’s hardly possible to stop porting code among dialects at once and concentrate on just one or two dialects to build more classes but not more dialects, so the state of Smalltalk will likely to continue.

    • Emptist,

      the problem of dialect differences and portability is being worked on. The fact that frameworks like Glorp, Seaside, Pier and such are available on practically all Smalltalk dialects shows that even complex code can be maintained in a way that is feasible among multiple Smalltalks. Grease is moving quite nicely and leverages many differences between dialects.
      But still, you are right: if there was only one Smalltalk dialect, the community could be more productive in producing class libraries rather than porting them.

      I am not sure if the number of available libraries has an immediate effect on a language’s sex appeal. In Java and Ruby, there’s too much choice, which is not really making life easier.
      If you have to choose from 12 web frameworks, 7 XMAL parsers and 5 JSON parsers for your daily work, you’ll either try and use the one that’s used most, or spend lots of time making a decision.

      So I’d rather see only 2 or 3 robust web frameworks and one or two XML parsers that are maintained by a strong community or a dedicated vendor, than lots of alternatives.

      Let me segway a little: I attended last year’s Eclipse Summit Europe, where a lot of Eclipse Incubator Projects presented themselves. My impression was that there is lots of “amateur” work that will never get anywhere and only a very few good frameworks that may be helpful.

      I’d say that it’s better to start in a technology where you can get to speed fast and can quickly find your stuff to get work done. Besides great frameworks it is good documentation that is needed. And a helpful community of course.

  2. Well, Smalltalk will not benefit from that – any why should customers ( = developers) care about this lawsuit ? As you mentioned: its a problem for implementors – not for users. Therefore who really cares (except very large companies) ? And even if Java is closed software ? Does the mainstream cares ????

    And Smalltalk ? Well it still does not fit well into all those public (free) available tools suites (git, svn, …) and is still very different from all other languages. By the way: Erlang is also very different, but it promises to solve multithreading problems – that’s an eye-catching argument and people might be therefore invest more time into that system.

    And users (and students): they take the most promising (free) tools: Eclipse and VisualStudio (Express). All for free, with large user base and large library wrappers – and not problems like “non-commercial only” problems.

    Summary for (various) Smalltalk: pretty good in various topics, but in no topic excellent ( to become an eye catcher or mind opener).

    • Marten,

      The whole point of my post was to express my surprise about how much people in the blogosphere seem to worry about Java because of Oracle’s action, even though they are not affected by it. There sure is reason to watch this action carefully for all Android developers, and of course for everybody who implements their own Java-VM or “Java-compatible VM”, like Google’s Dalvik.

      Your argument, however, is quite weak. Where exactly is the big win in Python or Ruby over Smalltalk? They also don’t save the planet feature-wise and are not particularly fast or robust compared to Smalltalk. Still they might benefit from fear and uncertainty around Oracle’s plans for Java.

      Also, if you look at Ruby’s overly complex syntax and some of its strange “hacky” constructs (that can easily make maintenance a nightmare, imo), where is there any room for a strangeness of Smalltalk copmpared to that? Ruby has a strange syntax, just like Erlang or Smalltalk. The only weirdness on top of this is the image concept.

      In contrast, I’d say that Smalltalk has a lot to offer to people interested in dynamic languages. It comes with a full IDE with lots of helpful code browsers and inspectors, brings a level of debugging that is unseen in most mainstream languages (even eclipse/java are weak compared to that).

      Most important: The level of productivity in both development and code maintenance is the absolute killer feature of Smalltalk, but that is something you don’t see in a few days of playing with it, unforunately.

      Just a few thoughts

      • Joachim,

        IMO, Smalltalk’s inability to gain traction has more to do with it’s run-time environment than anything else. I think for Smalltalk to begin anew, versions for the JVM and .NET have to be implemented. I’m talking about Smalltalks that integrated easily and seamlessly with the vast library of software available on these platforms. Imagine how much easier it would be to sell Smalltalk when you can deploy a JBoss module written in Smalltalk. Or write code-behind for ASPX pages in Smalltalk.

        Just my two-cents.

  3. Alex,

    just a second thought: This whole Oracle vs. Google story also shows us where Commercial backing can take us.

    Maybe open source and mostly free from commercial influence is even better than open source and patented. As far as I know, there are no software patent problems with squeak and Pharo. At least nobody bothered dragging these projects to court since there’s not much money to make (yet?) .

    So maybe Bruce Eckel has chosen his examples very carefully: Languages that are unlikely to get into such trouble since there is no commercial entity behind them that will specialize on patent infringements as major source of income.

    Just a thought ;-)

  4. Hi Alex,

    I’m not sure where you see a difference to Ruby or Python in this regard. Th ecommercial backing for both of these surely isn’t much bigger than the one for Smalltalk.
    Same applies for some of the currently much discussed languages like Scala (which would not be an alternative since it runs on the JVM) or Erlang or Haskell. There is no IBM, Microsoft or SAP backing any of these…

    Funny enough, I often hear and read comments like “I’d love to use Smalltalk” or “It’s a shame Smalltalk isn’t used more, I like the language”, but most of the times the counter-arguments for not using it are somewhat lame: people don’t care about commercial backing of Scala or Haskell or Ruby, but they use them. It’s like the long-forgotten contra-Smalltalk-because-of-slowness-of-a-VM argument. It didn’t keep Java from being as big as it is, even though its VM was very slow compared to Smalltalk-VMs for a long time…

    Smalltalk (or any other language) can only become widely used if people use it. It’s as simple as that! Commercial backing will only happen if companies see a market where they can make money.
    I’d also say that Cincom has proven their commitment to Smalltalk, and Instantiations is also very committed to Smalltalk. Gemstone, which is now part of VMWare has commercial backing, but admittedly not in ways of marketing.

    So all the “sleeping Smalltalkers” who cry for the big white Knight to come riding over the bridge and free the world from all enemies of Smalltalk should wake up and realize that he will never come if they don’t use it.

    It’s the users who create markets, not the vendors!

    • Joachim,

      With regards to Python and Ruby, it does have more momentum unlike Smalltalk- and it does have some tacit backing from the big players (e.g., Microsoft with IronPython and IronRuby). But other than that, I don’t see it making anymore “commercial” headway than Smalltalk in general.

      Python and Ruby do have the advantage of being true offsprings of the open source movement. In addition, they have a lot of that C lineage and feel to them (e.g., curly braces). Smalltalk has neither of those, so it is alien to programmers in the open source and commercial (Java, .NET, C++, COBOL) arenas. Thus, you are more likely to see new .NET/Java developers with open source backgrounds than Smalltalk.

      By the same token, .NET/Java developers like myself are more likely to pick up Python or Ruby on the side because of the open source choices available. Yes I know that Squeak and VisualWorks can be had for free, and you can really learn Smalltalk using those. But go beyond “classroom” programming and you’ll quickly encounter less support for software. Open source Smalltalk doesn’t come close to what is available (commercial grade) in the .NET and Java open source communities.

      IMO, the real indication of Smalltalk’s place in the universe can be discerned by simply browsing the computer bookshelf of your local Barnes and Noble, Border’s, or Amazon. There are no Smalltalk books- and if there are- they are old and outdated. The real irony is that the books that dominate those shelves owe so much to Smalltalk.

  5. Depending on how the lawsuit unfolds (and more importantly- how long it takes to develop) Smalltalk may get a second look. But I’m not too sure that Smalltalk would get anything more than that.

    It’s a shame, because I do like Smalltalk. But the reality is that it doesn’t have the backing of a major player right now- if ever.

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