Leopard and Java: What's Up with That?

While Macintosh users are enthusiastically putting the new version of OS X through its paces, one problem has cropped up early: problems with Java and Adobe Flash.

By most accounts, upgrades to Apple's Leopard OS are going smoothly. Some users are reporting disappointment, however, that Flash isn't working correctly; and the much anticipated Java 1.6 is missing. While these two issues won't adversely affect most users, for those who depend on Java and Flash, it's more than just a nuisance. Fortunately, it may be a short-lived one.

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Attendees at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year were excited by confirmation that Java would be bundled with Leopard. There were, however, inherent questions about which version of Java would actually be included. By design, Java 6.0 doesn't easily support Mac OS X Tiger or earlier versions of Apple's operating systems. Unfortunately, many users felt that Java 1.5 lacks the juice today's developers need.

Java 1.6 is already available for Linux and Windows users, so when a developer preview Java for Mac OS X appeared and, better yet, worked on Leopard, developers were overjoyed. Disappointment was nearly instantaneous when it was discovered that Apple had chosen to bundle Java 1.5 with Leopard instead.

The move was likely designed to include backward compatibility among OS X versions and ensure that Java was available on both Intel and PPC-based Macs. That's not doing much to assuage enterprise users hoping to benefit from increased system performance and developers who were looking forward to additional functionality.

"The number one things users see by upgrading [to Java 6] is that applications run much faster," says a spokesperson for Sun Microsystems, the creators of Java. "Everything's just speedier."

So when will Apple users see Java 1.6? Sun "We can't comment on the timeline because that's not an operating system that we have a relationship with," she says.

Apple representatives could not be reached for comment.

Among the disappointed is Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, enterprise Java developer and consultant, who says he is "frustrated that Apple has decided to make Mac OS X increasingly irrelevant as an enterprise development platform."

Fitzpatrick notes that the Java developer community has been itching for the 1.6 upgrade for quite a while. "Java 6 has been out in general availability for nearly a year at this point, and Apple did tease developers with a Java 6 preview early last year that made it look like they were not going to suffer from there usual abysmal lag time in delivering new versions of Java. Sadly at that point they went dead silent on the issue."

Fitpatrick says the average Leopard user isn't likely to be impacted by the omission of 1.6. The biggest blow will be to Java developers in the enterprise community, "many of whom had been moving to the Mac over recent years because it combined an excellent OS for productivity with the Unix based developer tools they needed to do their jobs."

"At this point," he goes on to say, "the credibility of the Mac as a platform for doing enterprise Java development is seriously damaged."

Since there aren't very many options for developers looking for the features that Java 6.1 brings to the table, Fitzpatrick has a suggestion for other disappointed Leopard users. "Run another OS (Linux or Windows XP) on your machine if you have an Intel Mac. Get a new, non-Mac workstation if you have a PPC Mac."

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