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JDJ Exclusive: First "Post-Google" Q&A With Sun About the Java Desktop
"OpenOffice Is a Huge Asset for Sun," Says Sun's Director of Java Desktop Engineering, Thorsten Laux
By: Jeremy Geelan
Oct. 7, 2005 06:00 AM
"As a desktop Java enthusiast," says Sun's director of Java Desktop Engineering, Thorsten Laux (pictured), "what's particularly compelling about the new partnership is the fact that Google has shown Sun that the JRE distribution channel represents an extraordinary value." The importance of that, Laux explains in this exclusive Q&A with Java Developer's Journal, is that it helps Sun to better understand the rationale for "continued and increasing investment in Java on the desktop" – creating a richer and broader platform which will ultimately drive more JRE downloads.
Q. Thorsten, thank you for talking with JDJ so soon after the historic Sun-Google announcement. We would like, if we may, to concentrate on the desktop side of things, but perhaps first you should just “position” this for us in terms of the overall announcement. How would you summarize what was announced yesterday, in terms of what was remarkable and new and ground-breaking?
Thorsten Laux: What's remarkable about this announcement is that two companies with a very consistent world view (that of network services, “the network is the computer”) but very complementary assets have partnered up in a strategic relationship:
Google has search technology and Sun has the distribution power to help bring it to every desktop on the planet. Sun has the distribution channel java.com and Google has the ability to advertise it, lets say when users are searching for “Java”. Google wants to deliver web services and rich clients, Sun has the Java platform for building and deploying them on desktop and servers. We have great hardware too, and Google announced that they're going to be buying more of it!
As a desktop Java enthusiast, what's particularly compelling about the new partnership is the fact that Google has shown Sun that the JRE distribution channel represents an extraordinary value. This realization certainly helps Sun to better understand the rationale for continued and increasing investment in Java on the desktop - creating a richer and broader platform which will ultimately drive more JRE downloads.
Q. How many people currently download the JRE from Sun.com currently; just how many extra Google Toolbars might there be in the world because of this? On what kind of scale is Sun expecting the JRE download tally to increase through the greater publicity that the partnership is bringing to its existence?
TL: The java.com download volume varies from month to month - depending on whether auto-update is currently active, whether new releases are available, etc. Recently we've cracked the 20M / month mark which is pretty unique as far as downloads go. Remember these are mainly consumers that want to run desktop Java applications like LimeWire or applets like Pogo Games or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Collection virtual reality viewer! Now we plan to offer the Google toolbar only to consumers, so only a subset of these downloads will contain the offer.
I do expect the number of JRE downloads to increase as a result of this partnership - both through increased publicity and through other initiatives we aren't ready to talk about yet. But it's hard to gauge by how much at this point.
Q. For those who are unclear, could you briefly outline the difference between StarOffice and OpenOffice, and say which will benefit most from the new partnership.
TL: OpenOffice.org is an open source project at www.openoffice.org to which Sun is the main contributor. StarOffice is Sun's commercial product based on the OpenOffice.org source code. Our press release mentioned OpenOffice. In the end OpenOffice adoption creates opportunity for StarOffice so I believe benefits to OpenOffice will translate to StarOffice.
Q. So what should Java developers, quite specifically, be most pleased about, now that the announcement has been made and the dust is settling?
TL: What's remarkable for all Java developers is that Google is endorsing and contributing to the future of Java via the JCP. Google, as a huge technology company, is certainly a good ally to define and drive the future of Java SE with. A lot of Google's software is actually written in Java already today.
What's exciting for desktop developers is that Sun's enhanced understanding of consumer distribution opportunities like this will help us look at desktop Java as a business in addition to the strategic investment it's always been. In the long run I expect this will mean that we'll be able to go much further in this space than we previously have.
We always knew that the desktop is very important to Java developers. In fact the latest Evans Data American Developer survey shows that Java developers spend more time developing desktop Java content than either server or mobile Java applications. And we knew that the java.com download volume was just growing at incredible rates. It's very exciting for me to see our success on the desktop turning into very tangible value for Sun and Google.
Q. Who at Google acted as point man for the StarOffice/OpenOffice dimension within the new joint partnership? And what about the Sun end, how personal was your own involvement in it all?
TL: This partnership involves StarOffice/OpenOffice in a couple of ways and different people were working on different aspects of it. Given that the JRE distribution opportunity was the initial spark I ended up spending a very substantial amount of my own time on this deal, but as we grew the partnership into other dimensions other folks got involved.
Q. Is this evidence of Sun having “regained its touch” with the developer community, do you think? Concentrating on the technology rather than the brand, which developers respect but cannot do their job with. (Only technology allows them to develop; not logos, version re-numbering, and all the rest.)
TL: I'm very enthusiastic about the level of dialogue we currently have with the developer community - particularly in the desktop space. If you look at the javadesktop.org community, the way we've engaged on projects like SwingLabs (swinglabs.dev.java.net) and the JDK community (jdk.dev.java.net), we have really strengthened that connection a lot. Today many developers download our weekly Mustang builds and chat with us about new features as we blog about them on java.net. Or they directly work with us on prototypes of new features within the SwingLabs project. It's this connection that ensures that what we build actually matters to developers - and with Mustang it really shows.
Q. Some commentators have said the Google-Sun partnership is a damp squib; others (JDJ among them) have suggested that this is a game-changing alliance, that the technology landscape will potentially never be the same again if the potential of the Sun-Google combo is taken to its limits. What are the limits? How far could this teamwork go, from a technological perspective?
TL: If you just take a step back to look at what the two companies are doing - from a technological perspective - and imagine the possibilities for teamwork, I agree that there is a huge potential. If you consider the progress we have made on the Google/Sun relationship over the past six months, we're on a pretty exciting trajectory. I'm not going to speculate where this will take us, but I can tell you that we're all very actively figuring out the next steps right now.
Q. Our ever-popular Java EE editor, Yakov Fain, has written:
Do you agree with him? ;-)
TL: OpenOffice is a huge asset for Sun and it continues to be a key component of alternative desktops like Linux and Solaris, as well as alternative desktop application suites for Windows. In my view it's a little too early to say to what extent the new partnership with Google will accelerate the already very significant adoption of OpenOffice.
Thank you so much Thorsten for taking the time to answer our questions.
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