Step up the Java Technology Ladder: A Conversation With Sun's Director of Product Marketing for the Java SE Platform, Jean Elliott

By Janice J. Heiss, October 2006  

With the release of the Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition 5.0 (J2SE 5.0), also known as Tiger, and the coming Java Platform, Standard Edition 6 (Java SE 6) final release scheduled for early December 2006, not to mention the open sourcing of Java SE, the Java platform is evolving from a community development model to a free open source model. To get up-to-date, we met with Jean Elliott, director of product marketing for the Java SE platform at Sun Microsystems. Elliott has held a variety of leadership roles in product marketing, business planning, and strategic analysis during her nine years with Sun's Java platform team. Today, she manages the groups responsible for developer tools, Sun Developer Network, five generations of the core Java platform, Java community development practices, as well as the emerging Real-Time Specification for Java (RTSJ) and EmbeddedJava businesses.

Prior to joining Sun, Elliott managed the Quality Assurance Group for Gensym Corporation, a leading supplier of expert-system software products for monitoring, diagnosing, controlling, and optimizing complex operational processes in real time. She holds an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management and a BA in philosophy and French from Trinity College.

questionWhere do things stand with the Java SE platform? Where is it headed?

answerBefore I answer that, let me show you the roadmap we're using:


Customers are interested in at least six generations of the standard edition platform in addition to the Java SE Real-Time and Java SE Embedded versions. Some customers are still interested in the Microsoft Virtual Machine (VM) because of older applications that they run on it. In 2007, Microsoft will end its support for the Microsoft VM. We offer a variety of services and useful information to help our customers make the transition, including a Java Upgrade Program site that contains migration guides, forums, information, and tips about how to get help. Also, be sure to take a look at the Java Upgrade Guide. Microsoft played an important distribution role in the early days of the Java platform.

Since 2003, Sun has developed its own distribution channels and now has arrangements with nearly all of the world's top 20 PC OEMs so that they can distribute the most current versions of the Java platform on their machines. In addition, several Linux distributions now carry the platform as well.

Next is the J2SE 1.3 product family, which will be EOL'ed (end-of-life'd) shortly, when Java SE 6 comes out in early December of 2006. For customers considering how to transition to a newer version of the platform, we have a variety of services available (PDF). The next product family, J2SE 1.4, is widely deployed. We offer an entire set of certifications, training classes, and support services.

Tiger's new language features constitute the largest update to the language thus far. The J2SE 5.0 Tiger product family has taken off. The JDK 5.0 is our most widely used developer kit. More and more applications are being built using Tiger, and customers are responding well to the ease of development, the new web services features, the improved performance, and the desktop enhancements. The J2SE 5.0 development team focused on ensuring compatibility with earlier versions of the platform, such as J2SE 1.3, to make the transition smooth.

"We encourage customers to run on supported software, and we strongly encourage users of J2SE 1.3 and 1.4 to make the transition to J2SE 5.0 or Java SE 6 as soon as possible."
Jean Elliott
Director of Product Marketing for the Java SE Platform at Sun Microsystems

question Tell us about Sun's support policy as it relates to the different versions of the Java SE platform.

answer We support the current products family plus two versions back, so we are about to end our support for J2SE 1.3 when Java SE 6 comes out in December. We will still be supporting J2SE 1.4, J2SE 5.0, and Java SE 6. We encourage customers to run on supported software, and we strongly encourage users of J2SE 1.3 and 1.4 to make the transition to J2SE 5.0 or Java SE 6 as soon as possible. Many customers have reported easy transitions from J2SE 1.4 to J2SE 5.0.

We also have an excellent migration guide (PDF) to help with the transition from J2SE 1.3 to J2SE 5.0. Check out our EOL web page for more details about our EOL policies. Also, the Sun Developer Network offers a variety of options for support services, training, and certification.

Many of the 2 million developers in the SDN receive -- and offer! -- support in the Java technology forums. Java developers can learn a lot at the SDN -- and it's free. The forums have doubled in size in the past year.

questionCan you refer us to any case studies of companies that have made the transition to Tiger?

answer The new shopping search engine company,, had great success building its web crawler with Tiger. And Wal-Mart, one of the biggest applications on the web, successfully migrated to Tiger. And of course, Google is probably best known.

"We have 2 million registered developers and many of them receive -- and offer! -- support in the Java technology forums. Java developers can learn a lot at the SDN -- and it's free."
Jean Elliott
Director of Product Marketing for the Java SE Platform at Sun Microsystems

question Could you comment on the NetBeans IDE?

answer The NetBeans IDE is part of our big push to provide better tools for developers. If developers have not tried this IDE, they really should. The NetBeans IDE enables developers to better take advantage of all the new functionality in Tiger and Java SE 6.

NetBeans offers simplicity in its advanced features and in existing Java technology standards. It also offers simplicity in integrating and using existing Java technology-based open source and commercial projects in developing. The profiler, the mobility pack, enterprise UML modeling, enterprise SOA Visual Designer, full Java EE 5, Jackpot, new subversion support, collaboration, and of course, Matisse, which makes building GUI applications easier, are just a few examples of what NetBeans offers.

NetBeans IDE 5.5, which is due out on October 30, 2006, supports the Java Platform, Enterprise Edition 5 and most notably the Java Persistence, EJB 3.0, and JAX-WS 2.0 specifications. NetBeans IDE 5.5 builds on the success of NetBeans IDE 5.0 and adds support for Java EE 5 and Sun Java System Application Server PE 9.

Java SE 6 Platform Coming Soon

question That brings us to the Java SE 6 platform.

answer The Java SE 6 product family went beta in March of 2006 and is currently working toward a final release in early December 2006. I should mention that Sun's chief engineer for the Java SE platform, Mark Reinhold, has a wonderful blog carnival for the beta release. What's exciting and interesting about this release -- aside from features and functionality in monitoring and management, ease of development, web services, and more -- is how Java SE 6 was developed.

Sun completely changed the implementation process in the creation of Java SE 6. As usual, the specification was created in the Java Community Process (JCP) program through Java Specification Request (JSR) 270. What's different here is the implementation. After the Tiger release, developers who wanted a more transparent development process said, "You have done some amazing work, but for three years we didn't know what you were doing. Now you come out with this terrific release. We only wish we had been able to contribute to it."

Researchers and folks in the education community wanted a simpler set of licenses for noncommercial use, and customers wanted more flexibility in the license in order to accommodate our products' release schedule. So we made some dramatic changes.

"We encourage developers to participate in the new open source community that is developing around Java SE 7."
Jean Elliott
Director of Product Marketing for the Java SE Platform at Sun Microsystems

We implemented the JDK community on and put up weekly snapshots of both the source and binary code beginning in November 2004. Developers contributed bug fixes, and more than 350 people have signed contributor agreements. We've received hundreds of contributions to the code. Going forward, we're committed to delivering Java SE with an open source model OSI-approved license as we evolve the platform from a community model to a free open source model. We are still working out the details of this. For now, we encourage developers to participate in the new open source community that is developing around Java SE 7.

After it ships, Java SE 6 will periodically be updated with bug fixes and performance enhancements but no API changes. Ray Gans, senior program manager at Sun, has an excellent blog. Sun is heavily focused on making the transition from Tiger to Java SE 6 as easy and smooth as possible.

There's been a huge uptick in the number of developers who are looking at the binary, with 10,000 to 12,000 developers downloading a month. The community is thriving, and we would encourage developers to participate actively in it, particularly as we get closer to the release of Java SE 6. Also, to increase the transparency of our development process, we've encouraged our engineers at Sun to blog about their areas of expertise. Check out Chet Haase, engineer on the Java 2D team at Sun for info on the desktop space, and Graham Hamilton, VP and Fellow in the Java platform team, for more general information.

question What more can you tell us about open sourcing Java SE 6?

answer Sun's entire implementation of the Java SE 6 platform will be open sourced, although initially there might be parts of the platform that will be available to developers in binary form, if they contain encumbered code. The JDK release contains more than 6 million lines of code. We intend to clear encumbrances as quickly as possible, and we hope to benefit from the community's help. Our goal is to have a completely unencumbered code base over time.

The developer participation in Java SE 6 taught us a lot about what it takes to interact with the developer community. We were able to change licenses and our infrastructure to make the JDK release process more transparent. This has given us a running start on open source. We want to move forward with the help and input of both the broad-based Java community and the free open source software communities.

The Java SE 7 Project

question Can you discuss the Java Platform, Standard Edition 7 (Java SE 7)?

answer For developers looking at a longer product-planning horizon, there's the Java SE 7 effort, which was opened in the summer of 2006 with weekly snapshots of source, binaries, and documentation released in parallel with Java SE 6 snapshots. New fixes put into Java SE 6 will also be put into Java SE 7, which is currently scheduled to ship during calendar year 2008.

Java SE Real-Time and Java SE Embedded Technologies

question You mentioned Java SE Real-Time and Java SE Embedded technologies. Can you tell us more?

answer Yes, when I talk to a room full of customers about the Java SE platform, we've got six generations plus our Real-Time Java and embedded products. The latter two are actually not separate platforms, although Real-Time Java contains additional technology. The EmbeddedJava technology is really the same technology put to different use. Some folks want to use the rich, fully functional Java SE platform in a kiosk or a medical device or in something that isn't a general-purpose desktop or server machine. We have business models to support that as well as specific ports, services, and support plans for embedded customers.

With Real-Time Java, there is significant and very innovative technology added to the base Java SE platform. Again, we have a business model to support that. So, whereas embedded uses the same technology with a different business model, Real-Time Java involves both a different business model and different technology.

The Java Community Process Program

question Give us your perspective on the Java Community Process (JCP) program.

answer The JCP program is alive and well, with approximately 280 JSRs and more than 1000 members, ranging from individuals to multinational corporations. Sun's implementations are more transparent than ever before. Some people speculate that the JCP program will diminish in importance as we open source the Java platform -- far from it!

Specifications will continue to be performed at the JCP. As Sun implements its full open source model for the Java SE platform, it's important to realize that we are open sourcing an implementation of something that has been specified by the JCP. We will need JCP to maintain standards as we move forward with open source.

question Do you have any reflections on the open sourcing of the Java programming language?

answer I've always been a bit cautious on this front. Java software is a multibillion dollar industry. I'm sure that open sourcing will be done thoughtfully with a strong focus on keeping compatibility intact. Think about it: Compatibility is the critical core feature of the Java programming language.

Consuming Java Technology at

question What is the role of

answer The web site gets 15 million visitors a month and showcases new content. It was originally designed for consumers who needed a new version of the Java platform or who had no Java software on their computers.

We have been able to distribute huge numbers of modern Java runtime environments (JREs) through In the past, most consumers only had access to the Microsoft VM, which was based on the J2SE 1.1.8 product family. Developers deploying content to consumers can now ensure that their consumers obtain a modern version of the Java platform by placing a simple button in their content that connects users to the Java technology download site, where they can get the latest version of the JRE free of charge.

question Any closing thoughts?

answer Only to encourage folks to update their use of the Java platform, which continues to improve by leaps and bounds. They won't be disappointed.

See Also

Five Reasons to Move to the J2SE 5 Platform
Java Upgrade Program
Migrating to Tiger: James Gosling and Mark Reinhold on Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition 5.0
Reasons to Migrate to J2SE 5.0 (Tiger)
Java Platform Migration Guide: Version 1.3 to 5.0 (PDF)
J2SE 5.0 Adoption
NetBeans IDE
Java Community Process Maintenance Review for Java SE 6 Beta
The JDK 6 Project
The JDK 7 Project

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