The most critical crown jewel for Java is the community. Said another way, Java's market share makes it the 500-lb. gorilla who can sleep anywhere he chooses. Java's community is as massive as it is diverse:

  • Vendors across the industry support Java. Though Sun is the inventor, IBM is perhaps the most important Java supporter.

  • Enterprise developers use Java to do almost everything. Java is at once a mobile computing platform, a web-based applications language, a systems language for enterprise-plumbing code called middleware , and everything in between.

  • Hobby programmers flock in droves toward open source projects. Once the black sheep of the open source community, Java has now become the dominant player.

Standards also play a significant role in enterprise computing. From the beginning, the core Java vendors have collaborated to establish standards. Servlets, EJB, and JSP were three of the most influential standards of this decade. To fend off the image that Java was growing increasingly proprietary, they established a community process.

Java has characteristics that many of us take for granted. You can find good Java developers everywhere. No one ever gets fired for choosing Java. It's mature and ready for outsourcing. You can get education. You can buy components. You can often choose between many implementations of a standard. You can do many things for free. I could go on, but the point is clear. Java's community makes enterprise development safe.

The Importance of Open Source

Everyone wants to build a monopoly for the inevitable benefits of market domination, but the power behind Java's community goes well beyond riding the coattails of market leadership. And one piece of the community, open source software, increasingly defines the Java experience.

In the beginning, open source software powered the servlet revolution through Tomcat. Then, we learned to build with Ant , and test with JUnit , and continuously integrate with products like Cruise Control. Later, Struts software changed the way that we organize web-based user interfaces, and Hibernate led a resurgence in transparent persistence. You could easily argue that the most compelling innovations are happening in open source projects, in many areas:

  • Lucene now provides industrial-strength text-based search.

  • Tapestry is possibly the most promising successor to Struts.

  • Spring rather than EJB defines the way that services are applied transparently. With Spring, you can attach declarative services like security, transactions, and remoting to POJOs.

  • Hibernate is one of the leading providers of transparent persistence.

You can even see the impact of open source software on industry. The EJB 3.0 spec forced vendors to provide a simpler POJO-based API, instead of standing pat and raking in the money from existing EJB 2.x servers. Ant and JUnit changed the evolution of development environments. JBoss created a full open source application server, and is changing the model for software companies.

Now, several companies use the open source community to control certain important technologies. For example, after years of getting hammered in the area of Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), IBM open sourced Eclipse. Now, look at the difference:

  • Though IBM spends a fraction of the money on marketing compared to the past, it has an overwhelming lead in market share.

  • IBM now has the mind share of the fickle open source community.

  • Open source developers contribute eagerly to the Eclipse project, and donate plug-ins for free.

  • IBM still maintains some control over the IDE, and more importantly, it keeps its competitors from controlling any aspect of Java through an IDE.

I'm not suggesting that the open source community is easy to manipulate or control. It's a force of its own. If you're starting a new software company or managing a mature one, you have to consider the impact of open source.

Moving Forward

Community played perhaps the key role in the emergence of Java. Without enticing the C++ community, Java would have started much slower, and may never have attracted the support of the core vendors. Without the open source community, many of the innovations that now define Java might never have happened. The challenges for the next major language are daunting.

If there is to be an ultimate challenger for Java, the next successful language will need to achieve a critical mass quickly. That suggests to me that there will need to be some sort of catalyst, like applets in Netscape. The next successful language will probably also need to nurture a massive open source programming community, if it is to enjoy the variety and longevity of Java. Finally, the next language needs to be politically safe (think Ruby, not C#), so standards can emerge without the constant bickering that can get in the way.