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The International Java Community Again Asks Itself the Multibillion Dollar Question: “Is It Time Sun Relinquished Control of Jav
The International Java Community Again Asks Itself the Multibillion Dollar Question: “Is It Time Sun Relinquished Control of Jav

(May 3, 2002) - When mainstream journals far from Silicon Valley such as The New York Times start referring to you as "troubled," even a giant like Sun Microsystems has to pause and take stock.

And while on the subject of stock, Sun's has now dropped 90% from a split-adjusted high just 20 months ago of $64.32 (on 9/1/00)...so what's going on in Santa Clara, and what effect might it have on Java?

This latter question is one that Java Developer's Journal editor-in-chief Alan Williamson is asking this week on behalf of the entire worldwide Java community.

"I absolutely do not wish Sun to go down," Williamson tells JDJ News Desk, as he left the UK for a developer conference in Toronto, "But I do want them to get out of the courtroom and back into the boardroom. Like many other Java developers, I want Sun to start talking strategy as opposed to lawsuits."

"Scott McNealy," Williamson says, "has taken his eye off the ball and for some reason is dabbling in the world of law far more than he should. If he were to channel the energy he is putting into court battles and lawsuits with Microsoft, into making Sun back into the mighty corporate giant it once was, then I think Javaland wouldn't even be discussing - as it is at present - the possibility that IBM, for example, might somehow try and buy Java from Sun."

Or Sun from Sun. This last suggestion was one that JDJ News Desk put yesterday to IBM's Director of eBusiness Standards Strategy, Robert S. Sutor, in an exclusive interview.

"Well, that's pretty hypothetical," Sutor replied, laughing, adding: "I'm certainly not someone they would ask. I have no idea. I deal with standards; I'm not anywhere near that."

Of course, IBM wouldn't necessarily have to own Sun Microsystems to have greater influence over Java. The same would apply if Java were open-sourced. And on this point, Bob Sutor was much more forthcoming.

"IBM is very much in favor of open-sourcing these types of technologies," Sutor explains. "It's the basis of Linux, it's the basis of the Apache Web Server, for example. We think it's a model that works. I have heard Sun itself say - I moderated a panel with my old colleague Simon Phipps [Sun's chief technology evangelist] well over a year ago, where he basically said something along the line of that Sun was moving toward open-sourcing Java."

What does Phipps, in turn, say? As reported in an exclusive interview with Web Services Journal News Desk earlier this week (http://www.sys-con.com/webservices/article.cfm?id=230) he says that "The majority of players in the marketplace are using Java today," and adds: "The Java platform is a technology platform that is used throughout the computing industry, with 500 members of the Java Community Process helping to standardize that Java platform."

Hardly, in other words, a platform in "trouble." Unless, that is, one thinks of Microsoft Corp's .NET strategy, which is to undermine Sun's dominance of the enterprise computing space by tempting developers into using not Java but C#, in order more easily to jump aboard the "XML Web services" bandwagon.

Phipps doesn't see such a jump as being at all necessary. "And as of today," he maintains firmly, "the Java platform has everything you need to manipulate XML and to process Web services. That's the reason why in the Giga survey at the beginning of this year 75% of developers said that they would choose J2EE as their platform for Web services."

IBM's Sutor, who is used to sparring with Phipps, nonetheless reminds JDJ News Desk that the open source model is "a model that gets a tremendous amount of input from the community and produces very high-quality code." In other words, Sun might want seriously to consider relinquishing control of Java.

"Sun owns Java," Sutor underlines, "they can decide if they want to bring it to an open standards group or if they want to open-source it. [But] open source is a model that works, and I think it would work for Java as well."

Alan Williamson wonders to what extent Sun's current predicament, with its COO Ed Zander leaving on July 1 and several other executive departures all coming at the same time, stems from an ambivalence at the very heart of Sun Microsystems...as to whether Sun is in reality a hardware company or a software company or both.

"To be honest it doesn't come as any great surprise that Sun is in trouble," Williamson says, "De facto Sun is a hardware/software company. But some of the diehard engineers would maybe argue that Sun is a hardware company at heart and that their sally into the world of software has been mismanaged. I guess history will judge this."

So what does Williamson think is triggering Sun's problems? "Well it would be easy to point the finger at Microsoft," replies Williamson. "Rightly or wrongly, that's the simplest thing to do and certainly doing so will get the most passionate response from the Java development community. However strictly speaking is it the case?"

"Well in a way it is," he continues, referring again to what he sees as the drain of focus and resources that goes with Sun's excursions into the judicial system with MS as its target. "Let's look at the amount of money Sun have spent on lawyers over the last few years," Williamson notes, adding: "I suspect that it would keep a lot of Sun marketing folks and Java developers in work for a long time."

What would happen if the worst came to the worst? Williamson has no way of second-guessing IBM, which may or may not have designs on the Santa Clara company or its wonder language/platform. But on one point he is clear: "I do not wish Sun to go down."

But what if? Williamson remains defiant that Java is now bigger than Sun, and would continue its success story. "If such a thing were to happen, I don't think Java will suffer. There are plenty of people in the wings that can more than cope with taking the Java mantle."

What about you? Do you think Java would be safe in any other hands but Sun's? Is Bob Sutor right that Java should now be open-sourced? Is Alan Williamson right that Java will survive, and thrive, come what may? Click Here to post feedback

Don't miss it!

Hear Simon Phipps and Alan Williamson debate the future of Java live with other industry leaders! June 24-7 at the Javits Center, NYC, at Web Services Edge 2002 (East) International Web Services, Java, and XML Conference & Expo.

About Java News Desk
JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 1

My concern with IBM is that they proved not to be the fastest and most innovative once, when it came to implementing the current standard. They rather focused on intruducing proprietary extensions and enhancements like data beans that would lock one down into IBMs idea of an ideal framework. The only thing that IBM prevented from totally controlling Java was SUN and the JCP. I fear that an IBM Java would end up like MS C#: proprietary, slow and less innovative.

Java will always remain a big part of the development society. People need someone to follow ( we've done that ) now we must innovate. We humans need to be continually stimulated and we have discovered that fresh new computer gadgets,do this for us.
Fortunately Microsoft has run out of ideas. Therefore the Java comunity as it is doing now will and supply the fun place to be for a while yet.

I think, IBM should do more. They bank on products like Java, Linux and so on. But no product was developed by them, they just use it and exploit it. Why ? Because they just want to win the battle against Microsoft. In the same time, they do not contribute at all. Everything what you can download at IBM is NOT open source and everything is patented (every single code coming out from IBM). If they want to win the battle then they should start to give away some of their products and knowledge, so that developer can built on it (including the source), not only complaining about other open source providers. I think IBM could make a difference and instead to complain make a move and the others will follow... (so will Sun)

well i think java is a lot bigger then sun look at the java community its not just sun ...sun is just the owner of that great language and i think that if sun goes down java will go open source
it will be a natural step and java will grow and be better and bigger then ever

A damn Shame !. This guy should be telling us of new technical java improvements.

If by "Open Source" it is meant to license Java via a GPL-like license, then I have to be concerned. There is nothing in the GPL license that prevents incompatible forks in the technology. The Linux community is only now getting to their arms around how to manage compatibility, but this has been the focus for Java from its inception.

There has to be a centralized authority that ensures Java has a set of standard compatibility tests and that all commercial implementations pass those tests. Sun is that authority for now and, even if their misfortunes take them to a sub-billion dollar company or they are acquired by another entity, they can continue to provide the compatibility foundation for Java.

Good question, Alan. It's the most important question to ask, especially while all the industry elephants bump into each other and jostle for position in a turbulent marketplace. No one should be allowed to trample Java into the ground while pursuing their own narrow objectives, not even Sun. Open-source it, Scott!! It's never too late to out-Microsoft Microsoft.




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