Would the Java community thrive as well under Oracle's control as it did under Sun's? Vendors of Java products seem split about the question.

Mark Little, who is Red Hat's chief technologist for middleware and a member of the Java Community Process (JCP) executive committee, raised the concern in an interview that Oracle may handle its stewardship of the Java programming language differently.

Because Oracle tends to be more focused on monetising its technology than Sun has been, it could try to maintain tighter control over Java, Little warned. By loosely controlling the language and supporting standards, Sun allowed an ecosystem of Java vendors to thrive. If Oracle were to apply tighter control over Java it might be beneficial to Oracle, but could limit the Java middleware industry as a whole.

Offering a more sanguine perspective is Rod Johnson, general manager of VMware's SpringSource division, which offers production-ready versions of the Spring development framework and Tomcat application server, among other Java technologies. "I don't expect Oracle to do anything sinister to Java," Johnson said. "It is not a stupid company."

In either case, Java has become another entry in a growing list of Sun-sponsored technologies, which also numbers OpenOffice and MySQL, whose fates remain uncertain under Oracle rule.

An Oracle spokesman declined to comment on Oracle's plan for the language, though the company has scheduled a webcast for Wednesday, Jan. 27, to detail how Sun's technologies will be folded into the Oracle strategic road map.

Oracle has said Java is an important part of why it wants to acquire Sun. In an FAQ that describes ramifications of the deal for Sun customers, Oracle said that it "plans to not only broaden and accelerate its own investment in the Java platform, but also plans to increase the commitment to the community that helps make Java an ubiquitous, innovative platform."

In 2006, Sun started open sourcing Java, placing it under the GNU General Public License and allowing the JCP to determine how the language would evolve. It retained ownership of the Java brand, however, as well as veto power within the JCP, Little said. "If Sun did not want something to happen, it would not happen," he said.

In a blog post last November, SAP Chief Technology Officer Vishal Sikkaalso also noted Sun's undue influence over the JCP. SAP is another heavy user of Java for its Netweaver platform. "The JCP is heavily dominated by Sun Microsystems," he wrote.

Little noted that Sun's control did not pose a serious problem to the development of Java, at first anyway. "Sun did a pretty good job as a custodian," he said."They were in some ways a benevolent dictator."

Part of this benign oversight came from the fact that, even as Java grew in popularity, Sun did not have a serious financial stake in the Java middleware market.

"When Sun started off with Java, it defined a [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] stack, but didn't really have an implementation outside the reference implementation. It wasn't competing against the likes of HP, IBM or BEA Systems," Little said. Only when the company ramped up development of its Glassfish application server did the JCP Standard Edition/Enterprise Edition committee started to feel heat from Sun.

And this undue influence may only grow more pronounced under Oracle, Little suggested. Oracle has a thriving Java middleware business, bolstered by its 2008 acquisition of BEA, which offered the WebLogic Server. Red Hat offers a competing application server and supporting software, called the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform.

"Oracle has a pretty good track record of making a business out of what it acquires," Little said. He speculated that Oracle could make it onerous for Java middleware competitors, by charging for the use of specifications, or rejecting a claim that a product is Java-compliant.