The bright spot is that users and enterprises have six months to dump Java 6 before they'll miss a bug fix. After the Feb. 19 update, the next Java patches will be released June 18, 2013. "Between now and June, enterprises should be testing [Java 7] and deploying it," Miller recommended.
Java 6's support death presents special problems for Mac users. While Java 7 runs on all current editions of Windows, including the 11-year-old Windows XP, it requires OS X 10.7, aka Lion, or its successor, Mountain Lion, on Macs.
That will leave a significant portion of Mac users without the means to run an up-to-date Java next year. According to Web metrics company Net Applications, approximately 41% of all Macs still run versions of OS X older than Lion.
Apple will presumably issue the final OS X patches for Java 6 in February alongside Oracle's update.
But some security researchers are unconvinced that upgrading to Java 7 is a good idea.
On Tuesday, Polish researcher Adam Gowdiak, who reported scores of Java vulnerabilities to Oracle this year, told the IDG News Service, "Our research proved that Java 7 was far more insecure than its predecessor version. We are not surprised that corporations are resistant when it comes to the upgrade to Java 7."
Thomas Kristensen, chief security officer at Danish vulnerability management firm Secunia, was more optimistic about Java 7's security prowess, saying in an interview with Computerworld yesterday that it was "pretty much equal to Java 6 out of the box."
But Kristensen did criticize Java 7.
The Java 7 Update 10 released last week included several new security options that let users disable Java in all browsers, or set privileges for signed and unsigned Java apps.
Kristensen called the changes "a step in the right direction" for the attack-plagued Java, but argued that Oracle should have turned on the new features by default rather than leave them in users' hands.
"They're difficult to understand, they're more complicated than similar features in other products. You have to know how Java works, the nature of Java, you have to understand signed and unsigned [apps] and the source of those apps," Kristensen said. "A more restrictive [environment] should have been applied by default rather than depend on users actively choosing them."
Lucian Constantin of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.