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Can Java become an important Linux language?

When you think programming languages and Linux, the languages that tend to come to mind are C, C++, Perl, PHP, Python and, lately, Ruby. But, Java probably doesn’t enter your mind at all — that’s because until recently Java was a proprietary language.

Sun, however has now liberated Java under the GPLv2 open-source license. I think that will help, but I think the fact that the Eclipse Foundation, with its Eclipse IDE (integrated development environment), and the JCP (Java Community Process), with its NetBeans IDE, are making nice will help a lot, too.

Developers didn’t need yet another standards battle, but that’s what they got. Both groups have long lists of companies supporting them, but what it really came down to was IBM (Eclipse) versus Sun (NetBeans): winner takes first the Java IDE kingdom, and then the Java application world.

On one side, we had Sun representatives making faces at the IBM-sponsored Eclipse and saying things like, IBM wants to corrupt Java by forking it. To give their claims bite, they’d point at things like Eclipse needing its non-Java SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit) library to run.

On the other side, IBM made catty comments about how Eclipse does more, and works far, far faster than NetBeans.

What was really going on, though, was an old-fashioned business standards fight. IBM and friends were impatient with what they saw as Sun’s slow pace and tight control of NetBeans.

One of the ironies of this fight is that both NetBeans and Eclipse are open-source projects. Anyone who’s thought that just because a project was open-source meant there wouldn’t be fierce competition just hasn’t been paying attention.

The downside of all this, of course, is that while these two sides were busy pounding on each other, Microsoft was continuing to gather up developers with its Microsoft Visual Studio IDE family and its proprietary .NET language families.

That isn’t just Windows, by the way. Thanks to the Mono Project, we now have .NET server and client applications running on Linux. Some of those applications are darn good, too. You can argue that F-Spot, the GNOME photo management program is the best Linux photo program around and Beagle is my favorite Linux search utility. On the other hand, they are based on a Microsoft technology. I, for one, would like to see Java become at least as important to Linux development as Mono.

To make that happen, though, NetBeans and Eclipse need to get on the same page. Now that Eclipse has joined the JCP — which is something like a McCoy marrying a Hatfield — we may finally see some progress in that direction.

I hope so, anyway.

When Mike Milinkovich, the Eclipse Foundation’s executive director, spoke to Daryl Taft at eWEEK, however, he said, “Eclipse is “still evaluating how deeply we can participate in the organizations, as we have limited resources to invest in their expert groups and task forces.” Come on guys! Get off the stick, and work together already!

Milinkovich also suggested that Sun should join Eclipse. OK, fair enough, I think Sun should do that. Sun has considered joining the Eclipse Foundation in the past.

Here’s what’s really important: both groups — IBM and Sun — need to work together to hammer out their differences. A united Java IDE will only benefit all Java development. And, it just might make Java an important language for Linux, as well. If not, well, am I the only one who sees the irony of Microsoft’s .NET being more important on Linux than open-source Java?

Come on guys, let’s get with the open-source, open-standards program, shall we?

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