Apple is preparing updates to its Java 6 runtime for OS X 10.6 and 10.7, which will allow it to better co-exist with future versions of the Java runtime. These updates will soon be available for OS X 10.6 as "Java Update 9" and for OS X 10.7 as "Java Update 2012-004."
The Java SE 6 runtime that Apple provides for OS X 10.6 and 10.7 users will be the last in-house developed version of the Java runtime for OS X. For future versions starting with the upcoming Java 7 runtime, OS X users will have to obtain releases from Oracle.
This development is good for Mac users from a couple of perspectives. The first is that as with other operating systems, the Java runtime and support for it will be readily available from Oracle if needed, and the second and more important is that the Java runtime for OS X should stay more current than it has been in the past. Apple has received criticism for its persistent lag in development for the Java runtime, and the runtime being only available through Apple has forced Mac users to use older and unpatched versions of the runtime.
Using older versions of Java left Mac users vulnerable to exploits, and resulted in a far more widespread malware attack with the recent Flashback threat, than what ought to have happened.
In a message to Java developers, Apple today announced the availability of the next Java updates for both OS X 10.6 and 10.7, which are being issued for testing purposes before they are made available to the public. The update in part is to fix bugs with the latest releases, but also to add support for "co-existing with Oracle's Java 7" runtime. In addition, the update implements the automatic disabling of the Java Web plug-in (after 35 days of non-usage) to Snow Leopard systems -- a quick security measure that Apple implemented in the Java runtime following recent Java-based security concerns.
A development kit version of Java 7 was recently released for OS X. This latest update is available for download from the Apple Developer site (requires a free developer ID), though unless you are a Java developer then you should wait and install the final version of the update when it is made available to the public.
Overall, these developments for Java show a steady progression toward handing off the baton to Oracle, and gives OS X the opportunity to maintain version compatibility with the rest of the Java community.