It’s been a rough couple of years for Java. With the acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle, Java’s future was everything but certain, and after years of stagnation and falling behind on the Web, the language was looking a bit outdated in 2009.

But that was then, and this is now. Java has gone back to being a reliable old tool in the box, rather than the soap-opera poster child for process-locked committees. With the OpenJDK pushing toward version 8, and the Java ecosystem back in full bloom, the development world can return to regular work, instead of reevaluating existing investments every time Sun put in a bad quarter. Plus, Oracle has proven itself to be a good steward of the language, resisting the temptation to bog down the JCP with Oracle-specific features.

The long, painful Java pause of the late aughts is over. Back to work, folks.

If there’s anything left in the Java world resembling a soap opera, it’s to be found inside VMware and at the Eclipse Foundation. VMware’s SpringSource acquisition of 2009 has, essentially, gone sideways. Instead of releasing time-saving tools like Roo, or improving the Spring framework to keep up with a changing Web environment, SpringSource’s core has been pushed over to CloudFoundry, VMware’s Platform-as-a-Service offering. As such, Spring has essentially been left on the vine to ripen based on community efforts, not VMware’s investments.

At the Eclipse Foundation, the move from the 3.x to the 4.x version of the underlying Eclipse platform was a bumpy one. Performance and incompatibility issues kept the Eclipse lists ablaze with complaints and discussions on how to fix them. And, as we enter 2013, this is the primary hope for the IDE: When will it be usable again? Of course, some would say it’s fine now, but what are developers if not opinionated about their tools?

Of course, Java remains the runtime of choice for almost half of all enterprises. As such, other languages continue to take root on the JVM. This year, however, the Web development framework known as Play gathered a head of steam as an answer to Web application woes for Java developers. Play is designed to use Scala, but many developers are finding that it works well enough with existing Java infrastructure that it still speeds up Java development.

So while the Java language itself didn’t experience much change over the course of the year, the Java ecosystem as a whole has returned to its prior vibrancy. It turns out that while Oracle has scared many away from MySQL to MariaDB, from Hudson to Jenkins, and from OpenOffice to LibreOffice, there’s one open-source project it’s not going to squeeze for every penny: the OpenJDK. That’s because this was also the first year in which Oracle truly showed how it’s going to make money from the language and platform: by selling you middleware.

About Alex Handy