Wednesday, March 18, 2009

IBM and Sun: Future of GlassFish, NetBeans, and JavaFX

The Wall Street Journal story today about IBM possibly acquiring Sun Microsystems ("IBM in Talks to Buy Sun in Bid to Add to Web Heft") is, at the highest level, nothing too new. It has been rumored for years that Sun would be a likely takeover target and Java developers have naturally wondered what would happen to Java and Java-related products if that was to happen. What today's story did do, however, is provide details that seem to take this past a rumor to a real story. The article points out that any such transaction might not complete and there are hurdles such as regulatory approval, shareholder approval, etc.

Most people seem to believe that software, including Java, will have little to no motivating influence on this alleged transaction. The article IBM/Sun deal won't be about the software, experts say does discuss what role Java might play or not play in the transaction. However, for those of us active in the Java development community, the effect of any acquisition on the Java programming language and platform (rather than the motivating power of acquiring Java) is of interest.

The Java ecosystem is large enough that it would likely continue to exist for years to come even if Sun Microsystems is acquired. However, there is no question that Sun exerts considerable leverage on the direction of the Java language and the Java platform and this direction would certainly be impacted by someone else acquiring Java along with the rest of Sun. IBM has contributed heavily to Javadom in the past with open source contributions like Eclipse, with commercial offerings such as the WebSphere application server, heavy participation in the Java Community Process (JCP), and with significant contributions to the literature with sites such as DeveloperWorks.

While an acquisition of Sun would most likely lead to subtler changes in the general Java programming language and platform direction, the effect could be much more pronounced and obvious for specific parts of Java and for specific Java-related products. Three products that would be of particular interest to me in such a scenario are NetBeans, GlassFish, and JavaFX. I am also curious about what effect this would have on JavaOne and on Java SE 7.

There are several things I really like about the NetBeans IDE, including its JavaScript and Ruby support, its integration with GlassFish, and its Swing GUI Builder. I also appreciate having another open source and freely available choice for a Java IDE. Given IBM's significant role in bringing about the Eclipse IDE and the sometimes bitter history between Eclipse and NetBeans, one has to wonder what the short-term and long-term fate of NetBeans would be if IBM acquired Sun. While NetBeans is an open source project, it it still heavily influenced and developer by Sun employees. This means that while the NetBeans project might live on, it would be much more difficult for it to continue to thrive and improve as quickly as it has in recent years without the same financial support.

I like to use the GlassFish application server because it provides such early peeks into the Java Enterprise Edition latest features and because it has been relatively straightforward to install and use. With IBM already owning its own commercial application server in WebSphere, there is some question about the level of interest in continuing investment in an open source alternative to their own product. As with NetBeans, the project could be forked, but the same risks of loss of momentum, slowing of support, and slowing of release of new features exists.

Sun has obviously invested significant time, energy, and resources into JavaFX. The topic has dominated the last two JavaOne conferences and is well represented in the catalog for the 2009 JavaOne Conference. The question is if a company acquiring Sun would have the same level of interest in JavaFX or have greater or less interest in JavaFX.

Speaking of JavaOne, an acquisition of Sun would almost certainly have an impact on this annual conference. The 2009 edition would likely change mostly in terms of discussions and unofficial functions, but future versions of the conference would likely see some dramatic shifts in focus. For example, if IBM purchased Sun, IBM presence at JavaOne would obviously be bigger than it was even in the early years of JavaOne.

Finally, with it sounding like we'll see Java SE 7 in 2010, I cannot help but wonder what effect, if any, a purchase of Sun in 2009 would have on that release. My guess is that it would only have a relatively minor effect on Java SE 7, but could potentially have a much larger effect on future versions of Java. It seems like an acquisition of Sun by IBM would almost certainly impact the Java Community Process in general.

Other Articles on the Possibility of IBM Purchasing Sun Microsystems

Java Crowd Has Mixed Views on Potential Sun-IBM Deal

IBM in Talks to Buy Sun?

Analysis of Potential Acquisition of Sun by IBM

Sun-IBM Merger: Is This Really Happening?

IBM Buying Sun Microsystems Makes No Sense: It's a Red Herring


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sandos said...

Actually, IBM too has a open-source edition if their application server, I think its called community edition. As far as I understand, it shares almost nothing with Websphere Application Server though.

Just pointing out that ibm might just keep glassfish alive, even if they have commercial offerings.