Java is back on track. The first major release of the Java development environment since Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems became generally available today. Java SE 7 includes the culmination of years of work on the language, and it brings with it an updated XML stack, better support for other languages on the JVM, and improved Unicode handling.

Adam Messinger, vice president of development for Oracle Fusion Middleware, said that Java remains a dominant language worldwide. “Java’s been here at Oracle now about 18 months, and in that time we’ve tried to follow a really simple recipe for moving Java forward,” he said.

“We started with proven technology, added in a great community, and then finally added our own commitment and investment. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants. In the 15 years of Java history, we’ve been lucky to build up a giant base of 9 million developers. It’s the No. 1 choice by developers according to the TIOBE index, and more than a billion computers around the world run Java. It’s by far the most widely deployed language in the history of computing.”

The OpenJDK forms the basis for Java SE 7, marking the first time in history that an open-source version of the Java development environment has been used as the basis for a commercial release. Mark Reinhold, Oracle’s chief architect for the Java platform, said that the new open-source development process has been a success, despite a few bumps in the road, such as the Apache Foundation’s sudden resignation from the JCP.

“This is the first release we’ve done where most of the development has been done in the open on the OpenJDK, so all the code has been out there,” he said. “It’s true that the development process has not been as transparent as we or others would have liked, and we’re continually improving that.

“But we have some significant external contributions in this release. The fork/join framework, for example, comes from Doug Lea and his group of concurrency experts. We also have the new render pipeline for Java 2D, which brings a big performance improvement to 2D running on top of xwindows. [The pipeline] is from Clemens Eisserer and Dmitri Trembovetski. We also have a brand new sound engine written from scratch by Karl Helgason called Gervill, and it’s actually better than the proprietary one we used to have.”

The core changes to Java SE 7 were solidified last fall by Reinhold and the Oracle Java team. Among those changes are new support for elliptic curve encryption, Unicode 6.1 and JDBC 4.1. The rest of the Java SE 7 change set came under scrutiny last year, and had since been winnowed down in what Reinhold termed “Plan B.”

The original planned changes for the OpenJDK have been spread out across two planned releases of SE. The effort to include small changes in the language, known as Project Coin, was split between Java SE 7 and Java SE 8, which is scheduled for release at the end of 2012. Two much larger projects were removed entirely from the SE 7 release: closures and more modularity for the Java environment.