Java is in an unusual state, with both version 6 and 7 being actively maintained with bug fixes. Which is the better option?
My vote goes to version 6.
One reason I prefer Java 6 is that it's smaller, simpler and more mature. Java 7 includes new functions, some of which were buggy out of the box. A slew of Java flaws disclosed around the end of August effected Java 7 exclusively. They have since been patched, but less code means a smaller attack surface.
Another argument for the older version is that because it's older, Java 6 is going to be more compatible with Java-dependent software. All the bugs have been worked out long ago.
For instance, Open Office has had problems with Java 7, saying "The current version, Apache OpenOffice 3.4, has reported problems with using the 32-bit JRE on 64-bit Windows 7 systems. However, this problem can not be reproduced in all cases."
Compatibility, is what prompted this blog. I recently upgraded a Windows computer from Java 6 to 7 and broke GoToMyPC in the process. The Citrix software is supposed to work with Java 7, but on this particular computer it did not (below). Who needs this aggravation?
That said, many Mac users don't have a choice.
For years, OS X fans got Java version 6 from Apple. Then Java 7 became available from Oracle for Lion (10.7) and Mountain Lion (10.8). But Mac users had to actively seek out version 7. Until last month.
Mac users that want to use a Java-enabled website are now forced by Apple to install Java 7 from Oracle. The only Mac users that can stick with version 6 are those that need Java exclusively for use with installed applications, such as ChrashPlan, Wuala, Minecraft or Open Office.
Windows, Linux and Solaris users can get Java version 6 from this Java downloads page at java.com. It is also available at the Java SE downloads page. As of this writing the latest edition is Update 37.
One downside to running Java 6 is that Java itself nags you to upgrade to version 7. This is strange, since Oracles own Java tester page reports today (Nov. 7, 2012) that version 6 Update 37 is up to date.
Every article on Java needs to point out that having it installed at all is not good Defensive Computing. It is frequently attacked and there is a critical flaw in both versions 6 and 7 that Oracle is not planning on fixing until February 2013.
If you don't need Java, get rid of it. If you need it for websites, enable it in a secondary browser used only on those sites.
There is no easy simple way, however, to determine if you need Java. On websites, Chrome warns before running Java, but nothing links installed applications to Java. The only thing to do is remove Java and see if anything breaks.
A sad state of affairs.