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Sun, Java, and the Middle Course

Lag the Dog

And what does Sun get out of it? And what does Sun risk? And is it too late?

What Sun gets, Schwartz says, is increased profits, at least eventually. Sun made gains in revenues and marketshare in servers in the first quarter of this year, and Schwartz says it was partly due to the open sourcing of Solaris ( And Solaris points the way for Java, he says. The way is not one of immediate payback, though: that comes from selling services to the market you create with the open sourcing of technology. The Register: "That, according to Schwartz, means revenue becomes a lagging indicator of the adoption of Sun's developer's OK to lose money up front, because revenue will flow further down the line."

Revenue as a lagging indicator of success: I've worked for companies with that business model. I hope it works better for Sun.

Shift in the Magnetosphere

JavaOne, in May of this year, was the Sun-watchers' big opportunity to take readings of the magnetosphere. Are Sun's poles flipping? Will south become north, or maybe south-southwest? Sun obliged us with many product and technology announcements. These weren't all about open source and community, although Sun sort of tried to cast as many of them as possible in that light. Among other things, Sun announced:

  • The latest major release of its enterprise platform-EE5.
  • Early access to the next version of its mobile development platform, Java ME.
  • New plug-in modules for the NetBeans IDE.
  • The release of a "completely open SOA platform," including Sun Java System Portal Server, the Business Process Execution Language Engine, and development tools.
  • A new Standard Edition (Java SE) license for GNU/Linux and OpenSolaris distributors.
  • Tools designed to drive web services interoperability between the Java platform and Microsoft's .NET framework, delivered as part of Project Glassfish, Sun's open source Java EE5 application server.

I leave it to Eric Bruno to dig into the details of these announcements on his blog ( But how do these announcements speak to Sun's challenges?

The open-source initiatives directly address the open-source challenge, and follow on logically from the Solaris move. In the year since Solaris went open source, more than 5 million copies have been downloaded, and Oracle moved from Linux to Solaris as its preferred base OS, a coup. With the specific Java technologies that Sun has open sourced, the company does seem to be shifting its poles a little, but open sourcing Java itself would be a major flip.

Java creator James Gosling says there's no way Sun will join Eclipse, so Sun seems prepared to fight this one out from an underdog position.

The Linux license was developed in consultation with Linux vendors, but it has nothing directly to do with open sourcing Sun technology, as everyone from Richard Stallman to the folks at Redhat has pointed out.

NetBeans is in an uphill fight against Eclipse, which has many more plug-ins and users. Java creator James Gosling says there's no way Sun will join Eclipse, so Sun seems prepared to fight this one out from an underdog position.

As for the agility/productivity challenge, Sun has seen that, as the cost of tools comes down and all IDEs try to deliver the core capabilities of their competitors, programmer productivity becomes a more important differentiator. And Sun's tools have been branded with a C, not for community or compatibility, but for complexity. Green indicates that Sun plans to meet the challenge of tools like Rails by making its own tools more productive but also by making it easier for developers to use Ruby and other scripting languages in Java projects.

The bottom-line challenge will get tougher, not easier, if Sun gives away or gives up control of more of its software. According to Schwartz, services will take up the slack, but he's not terribly precise about what these services are. And what if those services are adopted as enthusiastically as, say, NetBeans? A review of Java IDEs in JavaPro magazine judged NetBeans to be at least comparable to Eclipse, but pointed out that it "lacks the community and developer enthusiasm of Eclipse." Ouch. No wonder Sun is obsessing about community.

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