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Over the past few posts, we’ve taken a look at some of the innovations, milestones, and proud moments of the past 20 years of enterprise Java. Now it’s time to look forward and think about where enterprise Java is going in the next few decades.

Even the most optimistic Java practitioners probably wouldn’t have predicted that enterprise Java would be as healthy and ubiquitous as it is today. In the past 20 years, other platforms have grabbed at the brass ring and wound up eating dirt instead. Will Java continue to hold its ground, flourish, or decline?

Java and the cloud

Enterprise Java came of age during the rise of the internet, commodity computing, and open source, and the trajectory and evolution of enterprise IT has likewise been shaped by those forces. Now open source is mainstream and we’ve been adapting to distributed computing and cloud native architectures that would have been out of the question just a few years ago. The question is, where does Java stand in the implementation of those new applications? 

John R. Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Inc., says that the emphasis "has shifted to different languages, to other runtimes." We are, he says, "in a different era" where Java "plays a role but it’s not part of the preferred technologies that are really driving that era."

That doesn’t mean Rymer thinks Java is being abandoned, though. "One of the patterns that we’ve been seeing is that you have insurance companies, banks, other companies that have these big enterprise Java estates. There is quite a thrust going on to modernize those Java states using cloud," says Rymer.

"One of the very strong patterns we see is [an organization] containerize a big Java application, move it to a cloud platform… and then when you get it to that cloud platform, right away, because you’re in containers, you’re going to get a certain amount of operational benefit, because you just have visibility that you didn’t have before."

According to Rymer, moving to the cloud ups the benefit of older Java applications by making them "more flexible, more modern, and therefore, useful, than they would have been if they hadn’t changed, and just been left alone as legacy."

Lighter, less complex

Java is still strong, says RedMonk’s principal analyst and co-founder Stephen O’Grady. It still stands second in RedMonk’s language rankings, and "remains in a position of robust health, even as the landscape around it has become much more diverse than at the time it was released."

According to O’Grady, enterprise Java needs to "rely on the resilience and versatility that has characterized the platform to date" and "find new roles and opportunities in a landscape that is changing more quickly than ever."

If enterprise Java adapts Andrew Binstock, long-time market analyst and current editor of Java Magazine, says he thinks "the future is pretty good."

"I think it has legs, it will be there a long time, in good part because Java the language and the runtime continue to be regularly revved by the Java team," says Binstock. "And I think that Jakarta EE itself will probably become lighter, less complex, I think Eclipse MicroProfile is a very pointing-to-the-future type of release. And I’m encouraged by the fact that the individual technologies that make up Java EE continue to be revved on a regular basis."

Where enterprise Java may avoid the fate of other "legacy" technologies is in its ability to reinvent itself. Says Binstock, "It’s really not what often happens with enterprise technologies, which is that they become stable and don’t advance very much."

Red Hat’s Mark Little, vice president of Middleware Engineering, also has optimism about the future. "Jakarta EE needs to find its feet and I think there are huge opportunities for it and Eclipse MicroProfile to collaborate. Then there’s the fact that many of the individual specifications and implementations are useful themselves outside the context of Java EE; I think that’s something we often overlook and yet they are important components."

Little also referenced the work Red Hat is doing with Quarkus, with its focus on a native Java stack from the best of breed Java libraries and standards. With the investment that many organizations and individuals have in Java, Quarkus may lead the way in applying existing skills to the cloud native way of developing applications.

So the future of enterprise Java may look a lot like the past of enterprise Java, a large community of vendors and projects and individuals driving the platform to evolve and address today and tomorrow’s workloads.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the individuals who contributed to it and not those of their respective employers.