Apple said it would contribute "most of the key components, tools and technology required for a Java SE 7 implementation on Mac OS X."
The announcement gives OpenJDK another prominent backer. IBM said last month it would work alongside Oracle to make OpenJDK "the primary location for open source Java SE development."
Apple will contribute a "32-bit and 64-bit HotSpot-based Java virtual machine, class libraries, a networking stack and the foundation for a new graphical client" to OpenJDK.
"The availability of Java on Mac OS X plays a key role in the cross-platform promise of the Java platform," said Hasan Rizvi, Oracle's senior vice president of development, in a statement. "The Java developer community can rest assured that the leading edge Java environment will continue to be available on Mac OS X in the future."
Apple is "delighted to be working with Oracle to insure that there continues to be a great version of Java on the Mac," Apple senior vice president of software engineering Bertrand Serlet said in an accompanying statement. "The best way for our users to always have the most up to date and secure version of Java will be to get it directly from Oracle."
In addition, Apple will continue making Java SE 6 available for Max OS X Snow Leopard and the upcoming Mac OS X Lion. Oracle will distribute Java SE 7 and later editions for OS X.
Apple's long-term commitment to Java came into question last month, when it announced that it was "deprecating" its Java runtime as of the Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3 release. "Developers should not rely on the Apple-supplied Java runtime being present in future versions of Mac OS X," the company added at the time.
Apple's past statement takes on new meaning with Friday's announcement.
"My read of this is that Apple is happy to contribute most of its accumulated investments around Java to the OpenJDK so that others can take on most of the effort of supporting Java on the Mac," Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond said via e-mail. "This makes Apple happy because it can reduce its efforts and it makes Oracle happy because they get control over one more platform implementation of Java."
But one big question remains unanswered, Hammond added.
"What I didn't see in the press release was any indication of a change in position on whether Java-based applications will be supported in the upcoming app store for the Mac," he said. "That's critical if Java is to have a future role on the Mac as anything other than one for Java developers building apps for deployment on Linux. I guess time will tell whether this is a full change of heart on Apple's part."
Apple could not immediately be reached for comment on that topic.