Earlier this month, Oracle released a service update to Java SE 6, called Update 21. It created unforeseen problems because of Oracle’s attempts to rebrand Sun products into Oracle products.
In particular, it caused incompatibility with Eclipse, the open source Java development environment, because Oracle changed the company name property on java.exe from “Sun Microsystems” to “Oracle.” From Slashdot:
“In Java 1.6.0_21, the company field was changed from ‘Sun Microsystems, Inc’ to ‘Oracle.’ Apparently not the best idea, because some applications depend on that field to identify the virtual machine. All Eclipse versions since 3.3 (released 2007) until and including the recent Helios release (2010) have been reported to crash with an OutOfMemoryError due to this change. This is particularly funny since the update is deployed through automatic update and suddenly applications cease to work.”
Oracle has since undone the switch, changing the name field back to “Sun Microsystems.” But the subtle change is an indication of how hard acquisitions can be. Absorbing a big, multibiliion-dollar company like Sun into the Oracle brand is no small task. In this case, third party software relied on that company name field being “Sun Microsystems.” When it wasn’t, and the change was likewise not mentioned in the release notes, it caused problems.
Those in the open source community began pointing fingers at Oracle right away because, well, I guess it’s fun for some to point fingers at Oracle. But while Oracle does deserve some of the blame, here, others are at fault as well:
There was already an anomaly in Sun’s Java that caused Eclipse to freak out a bit; as a workaround, Eclipse simply ignored the anomaly if “Sun Microsystems, Inc” was in the “company” field of the Java install. It seems more to me less an instance of Oracle “breaking” Java and more an instance of an old bug that should have been fixed long ago rearing its ugly head after a hack workaround no longer helped. But the story has legs because it feeds into people’s pre-existing ideas of Oracle as a Borg-like absorber of all — and people’s natural fondness in seeing a big guy tripped up.
Oracle has already provided a fix for this, changing the company name field back to “Sun Microsystems” for the time being. But it also warned in its update that it would be changing the company name to “Oracle” for future versions.