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Oracle pulls Java 6 plug, but Apple likely to keep patching OS X Snow Leopard

Gregg Keizer | March 6, 2013
If past practice is a clue, Apple will support Java 6 on Snow Leopard until second half of 2014.

Those patches were for flaws that Oracle -- by then it had acquired Sun and taken control of Java -- identified as fixes for its business customers.

If Apple follows that same timeline, it will support Java 6 for approximately a year and a half, or deep into 2014.

There's no guarantee. The closest Apple has come to that was when it deprecated Java, telling developers that it would no longer ship Java with OS X. "The Java runtime shipping in OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard, and OS X v10.5 Leopard, will continue to be supported and maintained through the standard support cycles of those products," Apple said at the time.

Leopard's support cycle has long ended -- the last Java update for OS X 10.5 was issued in mid-2011, and its last security update released in May 2012 -- but Snow Leopard's has not come to an end. (Apple shipped a security update for OS X 10.6 in September, for example, alongside the most recent fixes for Lion and Mountain Lion.)

Apple might want to play it safe and continue to patch Java for Snow Leopard, both because of the recent rash of Java "zero-days," or vulnerabilities exploited before they have been patched, and because Apple was embarrassed last year when a then-unpatched Java bug gave hackers a way to infect hundreds of thousands of Macs in the widespread "Flashback" malware campaign.

The massive numbers of customers who remain on Snow Leopard -- as of last month, OS X 10.6 powered 27.5% of all Macs -- might also weigh in Apple's decision.

Ironically, Monday's update was a bonus for both Windows and Mac users. Previously, Oracle had said it would end public support for Java 6 with its Feb. 19 update. Oracle had also extended Java 6's EOL, or "end-of-life," twice last year, first from July to November 2012, then again from November 2012 to February 2013.

OS X Lion and Mountain Lion users who require Java should upgrade as soon as possible to Java 7, which Oracle plans to maintain at least until July 2014, and Apple may support even longer.

The next scheduled Java 7 update is set for April 16. If Apple continues support for Java 6 on Snow Leopard, it will issue that update the same day.


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