peshkova - Fotolia

IBM and Red Hat wield power over enterprise Java

Expect enterprise Java to evolve under the influence of new stewards, including IBM and Red Hat which will likely steer it toward cloud-native and microservices development.

A combined IBM and Red Hat could mean changes for developers in a number of ways, one of which might be the future of enterprise Java.

IBM's $34 billion Red Hat acquisition unites two of the leading proponents of enterprise Java. A key part of their success will be to ensure that the underlying programming model for their core applications evolves to suit the company's needs, but also the industry at large. IBM has no plans to veer its current path regarding Java, said Steve Robinson, general manager of IBM Hybrid Cloud.

Nevertheless, IBM and Red Hat will have a lot of influence here. After years of Oracle hegemony over Java EE and the Java Community Process (JCP) to make changes to the Java platform, enterprise Java vendors wanted a change, concerned that Oracle used its power to promote features for its own benefit.

Last year, Oracle moved Java EE to the Eclipse Foundation, where it is now known as Jakarta EE. Oracle made the move with the help of strategic members that included IBM and Red Hat, along with Fujitsu, Payara, Tomitribe and participating members that included CloudBees, Genuitec, Lightbend, Microsoft, Pivotal and SAP.

Undue influence over enterprise Java?

Some developers and industry observers question whether the IBM-Red Hat combination will simply operate as Oracle did and move enterprise Java in the direction to serve its own purpose.

"Jakarta EE has only six strategic companies involved in the Steering [Committee]" said Paul Fremantle, CTO of WSO2 in Mountain View, Calif. "Two of them just merged. I can't see how that is helpful. IBM-Red Hat may not keep their two places, but even if they don't they will have a massive input onto the Jakarta project."

Jakarta EE has only six strategic companies involved in the Steering [Committee]. Two of them just merged. I can't see how that is helpful.
Paul FremantleCTO, WSO2

Some suggest it's better to have more companies than fewer involved with Java. "With the acquisition, the Java eco-system is now minus one vendor, basically," said Jim Jagielski, co-founder of the Apache Software Foundation, and "open source chef" at ConsenSys, a New York-based blockchain software company.

Comparisons to JCP and the Eclipse Foundation's steerage of Jakarta EE are not valid, said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation. Oracle owned and operated the JCP, while the Eclipse Foundation is a vendor-neutral trade association he said. IBM founded the original Eclipse IDE project but has no special votes or other levers of power at the Eclipse Foundation, Milinkovich noted. And the whole point of Jakarta EE is to increase the pool of contributors.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director, Eclipse FoundationMike Milinkovich

"There are far more organizations and interest groups that have an equal seat at the table and are putting in equal amounts of funding and engineering resource," said Martijn Verburg, CEO of JClarity, a London-based software provider, and member of the JCP Executive Committee and Eclipse's Jakarta Steering Committee. Moreover, Jakarta EE and MicroProfile, a project to make enterprise Java more relevant to developers building cloud-native applications, are both at the Eclipse Foundation.

Making enterprise Java better for all

The union of IBM and Red Hat is more likely to accelerate enterprise Java's evolution into a cloud-native and microservices option, one that's comfortable for enterprise Java developers and won't require institutions to retrain or choose a new ecosystem, Verburg said. That is important to the future of the platform, as it must compete with other environments such as .NET and languages like Kotlin, Swift, Go, JavaScript and others.

Dig Deeper on Core Java APIs and programming techniques

App Architecture
Software Quality
Cloud Computing