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Oracle and Java: Some think advisory board would comfort users

With Oracle now in full control of Java, jittery users want an independent advisory board to ensure the code's neutrality. Scott McNealy, are you interested?

To ease concerns about Oracle's newfound control over Java, some users and analysts believe the company should set up an advisory board to ensure the code's vendor neutrality.

"I think it would be a good idea if Oracle set aside Java as a foundation and had someone like [Sun co-founder] Scott McNealy run it. That way, people would know it is safe and that there will continue to be an ecosystem supporting it, so one vendor can't dominate it," said Ray Wang, a vice president with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Wang said many of his clients believe such a board would afford Oracle the opportunity to show leadership over a critical industry standard and perhaps build confidence in the Oracle-Sun juggernaut among developers.

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"Doing something like that would be a nice way for Oracle to make a contribution back to the industry," Wang said.

Some IT shops with a development environment split between Java and Microsoft .NET do not feel as threatened. If Oracle did decide to slant Java's technical specifications in its own favor, however, some users said they would face an arduous and expensive transition to an all-.NET environment.

"Other companies I have talked to are a bit jittery about what Oracle might do. They don't know if they can trust Larry [Ellison, Oracle CEO] to do the right thing here. Setting up some sort of advisory board overseeing things might ensure some balance," said Eric Lee, an IT administrator with Pacific Water and Power.

Some users said that besides an executive from Sun and the obligatory executive from Oracle, they would like to see a few of Oracle's competitors serve on such an advisory board, most notably a representative from IBM. When asked whether the company would be interested in supporting a separate Java foundation, an IBM spokesman declined comment.

IBM extended its licensing agreement with Sun for Java in June, 2005. It expires in 2016.

Other users have more faith that Oracle will serve as an honorable steward of Java and will not try to reshape the standard to serve its own purposes and so place major competitors reliant on Java, including IBM, at a technical disadvantage. However, some Oracle users are hoping the software giant will "enhance" Java so it improves the functionality and performance of Oracle applications.

"I don't think they will try to yank the standard their way, but maybe now there is the idea that they can Oracle-ize Java. They could repackage it or repurpose it under their name [as] they did with Linux, and leave the existing version alone," said Ian Abramson, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG).

Oracle had made huge investments in Java development via its applications and integration layers, Abramson said. But when IBM began serious talks to acquire Sun, Oracle's management realized that the investment could be jeopardized by a competitor taking control of Java.

"When talks began with IBM, I think they [Oracle] must have realized that potentially they could lose control of their entire development environment," Abramson said. "I think they saw this as an opportunity for them to become the gatekeepers of Java going forward. We do hope Oracle will keep [Java] as open as possible."

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