Why the (Sun) JVM is irrelevant to me

December 23, 2005

In this entry, Ian Bicking responds in part to Tim Bray's On Beyond Java -- the JVM and comments as an aside that he's indifferent to the JVM. I want to expand on Bicking's aside, because I am in much the same boat as him. Here's the pragmatic reasons why the (Sun) JVM is pretty much irrelevant to me:

  • it's a 46 megabyte download (for the JDK; the JVM alone is smaller).
  • ... with an install script that mangles my systems.
  • ... that my Linux distribution can't include. (It is not alone in this; I don't think any Linux distribution includes the Sun JVM.)
  • this means my distribution can't integrate it into things like Apache, or ship programs that depend on a JVM.
  • since it's not part of my distribution packages, I don't automatically get security alerts and upgrades for it.

As Ian Bicking also mentions, what this boils down to is that Sun has made it a pain for me (and open source people in general) to have anything to do with the JVM. Open source people generally don't involve themselves with things that are pains, so in turn there are no 'must have' JVM-based open source programs that would make the JVM actually important to us (the closest is parts of Open Office 2, generally written by Sun programmers).

So the JVM stagnates in the open-source world, sitting quietly in its little corner. Nobody uses it, nobody needs it, and the big reason for a lot of people to even bother with a copy of the JVM is to make Java applets play in their browser. I suspect that more Linux machines have a copy of Macromedia Flash than a JVM.

And in the future, I suspect that more machines will have a copy of the Mono .NET environment than will have a JVM. Certainly there's strong signs that people are developing attractive open source applications with Mono, and (absent patent concerns) distributions can actually ship the runtime.

(Due to the heroic work people have done to create usable free JVMs and to get useful free programs working with them, the JVM situation is changing a bit; a modern Fedora Core distribution actually includes a number of useful Java-based things. I suspect that by now this is too little, too late.)

Written on 23 December 2005.
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Last modified: Fri Dec 23 03:53:23 2005
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