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Microsoft vs. IBM: A major shift in Java support

Once an afterthought in the Java community, Microsoft has seemingly overtaken IBM as the preeminent advocate among developers at the Oracle Code One conference.

SAN FRANCISCO -- There once was a time when IBM was arguably the most dominant force in the enterprise Java community. And yet at Oracle Code One 2019, signs all pointed to how Microsoft wants in, while IBM wants out -- a major shift in the Microsoft vs. IBM discussion.

It was always IBM, after all, that invested heavily in Java development, while Microsoft didn't bother. As IBM pushes itself away from the Java table, Microsoft appears ready to take a seat.

Microsoft vs. IBM: A reversal of roles

IBM invented the Eclipse IDE. IBM pushed Fortune 500 clients onto WebSphere, which drove widespread adoption of server-side Java. And when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems a decade ago, it was IBM that put in a serious bid for Sun's technologies. If Oracle hadn't sweetened its offer, IBM likely would have become the steward of the Java language.

But IBM's interest waned over the years, and the company has severely neglected its WebSphere user base, providing inadequate updates to the server, portal and web content management (WCM) tools. Even today, the WCM editor doesn't support multiple browser tabs. The web-based server administration UI blows up when you click the back button, and the portal configuration tool is severely outdated. Nobody in the industry was surprised when IBM sold its on-premises WebSphere offerings to HCL Industries earlier this year.

From a user perspective, it feels like IBM gave up on WebSphere and sever-side Java a long time ago. Instead, Big Blue is focused on AI, the cloud and its bewildering assortment of Watson-branded tools. IBM certainly didn't present as strong a front at Oracle Code One 2019 as it did when the conference was called JavaOne, and that contrasts starkly with Microsoft.

Microsoft vs. IBM: One lays inroads for Java developers, the other retracts

Microsoft's .NET platform has always been a direct competitor to Java EE, and any tool that flew under Bill Gates' flag was ripe for criticism from the Java community -- no matter how technically sound it might be. Despite a position behind the 8-ball in terms of Java mindshare, Microsoft has done everything it can over the past 18 months to endear itself to the developer community.

Microsoft became an AdoptOpenJDK sponsor in June 2018. More recently, Microsoft acquired jClarity, which meant respected Java Champions such as Martijn Verburg and Ben Evans were brought into the Microsoft fold. And, despite owning Team Foundation Server, a popular and capable version-control system in its own right, Microsoft spent $7.5 billion on GitHub, a DVCS tool that hosts a variety of Apache and other open source Java projects.

Microsoft servers have never been the primary deployment target of Java EE apps. But a cloud-native Java application that runs within Docker can be hosted on Microsoft Azure with ease. Containerization has opened up the playing field, and Microsoft can salivate over the formerly inaccessible revenue potential the enterprise Java space represents.

Oracle Code One 2019 may well be remembered as the turning point in the Microsoft vs. IBM discussion. This is the year that saw Microsoft start to make serious inroads to the Java community and transform itself from a punching bag to a respected advocate.

This notion really hit home when I saw a session at Code One with Kirk Pepperdine -- a Java Champion who has always been fiercely independent -- and realized that he's now a principal engineer at Microsoft. It's equally as elucidating to see Reza Rahman -- the former Java EE evangelist for Oracle -- represent Microsoft in his "Birds of a Feather" sessions.

It's pretty clear. Microsoft has made a serious play at the enterprise Java space, and IBM has drifted off in other directions.

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What do you think motivates Microsoft's move into the enterprise Java space?
MS only cares about selling Azure so they support (e.g. peddle) anything that runs in the cloud. The majority of new deployments on Azure are based on Linux, not Windows Server. From a CIO perspective it's pretty compelling: one throat to choke from development through cloud deployment.
Lot of examples to suggest Microsoft is making in-roads into Java landscape, and I agree with that, but saying IBM is drifting away from Java based on problems in couple of tools under Websphere product suite, difficult to digest that.
Microsoft's emerging presence in the industry is indeed more than palpable.

I do think IBM wiping their hands of 'on prem' WebSphere is a significant indicator. As is the fact that they'd rather sell off that entire segment of users as opposed to transition those users onto another one of their products.

My guess is Microsoft would have loved to have that customer base, and would have very aggressively moved them onto Azure, rather than cashing them out.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how IBM's business strategy works out for them. I'm not convinced that they are on a path to relevance.
IBM drives the open source world with their linux foundation contributions:

IBM is moving OpenPower Foundation to The Linux Foundation
The open-source pieces have been part of the OpenPower Foundation. Today, the company announced it was moving the foundation under The Linux Foundation, and while it was at it, announced it was open-sourcing several other important bits.

IBM is driving this open world bus, NOT microsoft's limburger / swiss cheese software offerings - as they stink and are full of HOLES - Hackers truly LOVE  MS!

RickMo Mainframe z15 Afficionado 
Would love to hear your insights on the role of the mainframe in today's market.
> From a user perspective, it feels like IBM gave up on WebSphere and sever-side Java a long time ago

I think you've conflated IBM's java application server, which enterprise java developers naturally care about, with divested software products that once shared some "websphere" branding. 
A content-management product is not Java support.

There are 20 years and billions worth of continued and strategic product investment, across all Java editions, tooling on the development and pipelines, all with the vast majority contributed back to the open source community.

I am not downplaying the great news for Java that Microsoft has started to turn some of its developer focus from C# to Java, but there are ways to go.

The Mainframe drives our GIANT corporate sector world!

Service Interface access (i.e., via secured TLS/SSL https end-point network calls) is 21st & a half century computing!

Anyone can be a fortune 5000 and run MS -  My goal is always to work for and be a part of the FORTUNE FIFTY Business Computing World!

aka, M-A-I-N-F-R-A-M-E  Server - BIG IRON, Baby!


Shoot me an email, RickMo.

cmckenzie at techtarget dot com
Microsoft has been hiring great Java
developer advocates recently so they deserve
good press like this. However this article omits some relevant recent data...
What about IBM being the first commercial (simultaneously to the reference impl) out the gate with a JakartaEE 8 release this month? What about being a primary investor in the increasingly successful MicroProfile Java server technologies? What about the huge investment in Java runtimes including Platinum sponsorship of AdoptOpenJDK? What about the 208 active pull requests at (all my own views not my employers)
it seems that the java playing field has been abandoned and microsoft thinks it can make some money there...  sounds quite reasonable...  I would not be surprised to hear that somehow java might be closer now to .net core 4, 5, 6, 7...  who knows :-)