Dear Apple: Some Java Love, Please?

I love your machines. Truly, I do. Back in 1988 I bought a toaster-model Mac SE, with one megabyte of RAM, and I loved it. It only had a nine inch, black-and-white screen, and I loved it. For various reasons, I sort of lost the love for a while, until 2006. I acquired an iBook G4 in a hardware trade with a friend and I quickly became hooked on the sweet goodness that is OSX. That was in August, 2006. Two months later I bought a Mac Pro, which I love so much I sometimes feel the need to kiss it goodnight.

But there’s one thing about the Mac that bothers me: lousy Java support. Sun handles JDK releases for Windows and Sun machines and every Linux system on the planet. Yet, for some inscrutable reason, you have decided to handle Java for OSX yourself. And, not to be rude, but I just have to say that you suck at maintaining Java for the Mac!!! Let me ‘splain.

Sun released the first version of Java 6 for Windows, Linux and Solaris in December 2006. Two days ago, Sun released the tenth update for Java 6, again for Windows, Linux and Solaris. On September 24, 2008, you guys released Java 6_07, which was nice to finally get it, but it’s only for Leopard systems and it’s only for 64bit machines. My Mac Pro is 64bit and Leopard, but my iBook is 32bit and can’t run Leopard. And what about the tons of other developers out there who don’t meet these requirements? I can’t think of a good reason you have restricted Java 6 in this way, but I can think of a few bad reasons. Probably the easiest to come up with is that you’re trying to force Java developers to buy more expensive Apple machines.

What’s really funny about the crappy state of Java on the Mac is comments from Sir Steve himself, several years ago. I was at JavaOne in 2000. Sir Steve was the Mystery Date™ for the keynote speech on Day One of the conference. His Steveness trots on stage, clad all in black, and proclaims that he was going to make the Mac the ultimate platform for Java developers. Apple would be bundling Java 2 SE with OSX. And the crowd went wild. And he did make the Mac a great Java development platform. For a while. I can’t tell you how many conferences I went to after that, Java conferences, where the majority of developers were toting Mac laptops around. 

But then you started falling behind with the releases. And then you started restricting which of your users were worthy of getting updates. What gives, Apple? If Sun can release timely versions of Java that run on a ton of disparate systems, why can’t you release timely versions that run across your own hardware family? It’s absurd that you are only supporting 64bit Leopard system for the latest versions of Java, and even then you make us wait forever. 

So, how can we fix this? I think you should go back to Sun and say something like,

I’m sorry, Sun. We like to meticulously control everything, but in this case, that desire has caused us to hose down our customers. They’re not happy, and we can’t figure out a good way to appease them. Please, Sun, would you take over maintenance of the JDK/JRE for OSX? We’d really appreciate it.

Or something like that. Something needs to happen soon. Although the lastest version sounds like just another update to Java6, there are actually lots of new features that are going to really improve Java. Except those of us on the Mac have to wait for some unknown amount of time before you guys release your own version. And if we’re not 64bit Leopard, we’re screwed.

Please, Apple, help us out with some timely Java love, OK?


Joey Gibson