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Apple threatens Java with death on the Mac

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Apple has "deprecated" Java on Mac OS X, meaning it will pay even less attention to upkeep of the platform, and it may kill the platform entirely on a future version of its operating system.

Many seem to think this is minor news. But if Steve Jobs is booting Java from the Mac, he's also booting Java developers, including all those coders building apps for a certain Google mobile operating system.

On Wednesday, as Apple cult leader Steve Jobs unveiled a future Mac OS incarnation dubbed "Lion" and a new Mac App Store, the company released a Java update for Mac OS X 10.6 — and the release notes revealed that the platform isn't long for Jobs' world. "As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the version of Java that is ported by Apple, and that ships with Mac OS X, is deprecated," the notes read.

"This means that the Apple-produced runtime will not be maintained at the same level," the note continued, "and may be removed from future versions of Mac OS X. The Java runtime shipping in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, will continue to be supported and maintained through the standard support cycles of those products."

In an obviously related move, Jobs also banned Java apps from the upcoming Mac App Store. "Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, Rosetta) will be rejected," the store's developer guidelines say.

So, in one day, Apple deprecated Java and announced that applications using deprecated technologies such as Java won't be allowed in its official Mac Apps Store.

Apple's interest in desktop Java has steadily waned over the years. Updates became less and less frequent, and the Java-Cocoa bridge was knocked down in 2006. But if the company completely kills the platform on the Mac, that's something else entirely.

It would appear that Apple intends to stop shipping Java for Mac on a future version of the OS — mostly likely "Lion." And the further implication is that it will halt all development of Java for Mac. If this happens, it will be left for someone else to provide a viable version of the platform for Macs. And if Apple doesn't open source its existing work, that's no easy task.

"Others may be able to take up that slack," says Jon Abbey, a Mac-using Java developer at the University of Texas at Austin, "but it would require significant development work to reproduce what Apple currently ships, mostly because the Mac uses such a different graphical programming model from Linux or Windows, and because Apple has done a comparatively good job of making the standard Java GUI system look and work as well on the Mac as it does."

For what it's worth, with its latest Java update, Apple has allowed for third-party Java VMs to be installed alongside its own.

For the average user, no Java on Mac isn't that much of a problem. We stand by our claim that if Java suddenly disappeared from all desktops, relatively few people would actually notice. But those few include Java developers, which includes, well, Android developers.

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