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Sun’s Evolving Role as Java Evangelist

by
04/17/2002

The following is an editorial on Sun's evolving role and its challenges in being a Java evangelist for the community.

A couple of weeks ago at JavaOne, I had the pleasure to meet with some of Sun's executives. While I can't go into specifics, I am convinced that Sun wants to be the enabling evangelist for all Java developers around the globe. And to a significant degree they already are, as evidenced by the Java Community Process (JCP). Sun VP Rich Green has been quoted on countless occasions that Sun's ideal role with regards to Java is as an "evangelist." Sun VP George Paolini has been quoted, "In my mind, organizations of this kind succeed when there's a technology [i.e., Java] at the center of gravity." In essence, Sun wants be the .ORG for Java, although their ads say that they put the .COM into their clients' business Web sites.

In being true to this, Sun has all but folded up iPlanet by eliminating this business unit or spin-off company. While Sun still technically sells the iPlanet Web application server suite and Forte for Java IDE under the SunONE brand package, look for these two products to be sold off, in the long term, to possible buyers such as Novell, now positioning itself to become J2EE licensee and vendor as part of its Web services e-Directory and networking solutions offering. That is, unless Novell is acquired by IBM (affiliated with Novell, and has used Novell's distribution channels for its WebSphere application server).

Additionally, in a joint Sun and Apache agreement announced at JavaOne, the JCP’s Java Specification Reviews (JSRs), going forward, may become open source implementations. For more on this, check out Daniel H. Steinberg’s "Open Source is Big News at JavaOne" report.

Sun should also consider the following:

  1. Gaining control of Java.org.
  2. Making JCP.org an open source community.
  3. Participating in OMG for establishing Web services and other interoperability ties to Java.
  4. Participating in the W3C for establishing standard Web services interoperability ties to Java.
  5. Participating in the new Web Services consortium.

The last two items on this list may be problematic. IBM and Microsoft hold executive-level posts on both the W3C and the newly formed Web Services consortium, and IBM is especially resistant to Sun's major participation as an executive board member on the Web Services consortium. While IBM is one of Sun's Java partners, its long reluctant partnership with Microsoft was a gambit to leverage what it wanted from Sun (as well as to access Microsoft's customer base). Moreover, IBM's Web services technologies, such as WSDL and UDDI, serve as a superset of technologies that provide an interoperability bridge to and from Java and Microsoft's .NET. Now, IBM would like to use this superset of technologies and its positioning in the newly formed Web Services consortium to leverage what it can from Sun.

While IBM claims to be open source friendly, they have used this to leverage what it can from developers, and to use it against Sun as well. What does this mean? Well, a recent ZDNet editorial, "When will IBM buy Sun?," suggests IBM's next move is to wrest control of Java from Sun by company acquisition or other means. Well, even IBM isn't large enough (or doesn't have the cash) for such an acquisition. Even if it were or did, the FTC would not let such an acquisition occur anyway, given that Sun is its primary competitor in the hardware server space. As far as IBM wresting control of Java away from Sun in other ways, I doubt it. You would see a class action lawsuit on behalf of Sun filed by Sun's many other Java vendors (i.e., BEA, Oracle, etc.) and others that make up the varying levels of membership in the JCP. And don't expect Microsoft to join IBM on this, given its apparent commitment to .NET, as well as its own, outstanding anti-trust legal problems. To guarantee that IBM doesn't attempt to wrest control of Java from Sun, Sun should consider a formal Java.org consortium consisting of IBM, BEA, Oracle, Nokia and other significant Java market players, currently found on its JCP executive committee.

Finally, Sun should somehow clear the air about its J2EE (and other vendor) licensing agreements and practices. The likely long-term elimination of iPlanet may be a response from license holders IBM, BEA, and others, who felt that Sun was competing with them, and therefore, that Sun was affecting the license holders' revenue, which in turn affected Sun's licensing fees and royalties. For example, in exchange for iPlanet's likely elimination and other concessions not available here, I believe Oracle licensed the J2EE and dropped out of OpenServer.org, which became a failed vendor-backed initiative to dictate Java licensing terms to Sun. Again, from Sun VP George Paolini: "In my mind, organizations of this kind succeed when there's a technology at the center of gravity, but I didn't see that [with OpenServer.org]."


O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference

The 2002 O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference explored how P2P and Web services are coming together in a new Internet operating system.


So while much of Sun's direct revenue from Java comes from licensing and JCP membership dues, Java is primarily a vehicle to promote hardware server and/or Solaris OS sales for Sun internally, and to promote Java as the programming language for other server-side OS environments (i.e., BSD, Linux, etc.), client-side PC (now including Mac OS X) systems, and device OS environments (i.e., BlackBerry, Palm, Nokia, etc.). In fact, according to ZDNet's David Berlind, "Java [now] represents the first credible threat to Redmond on the client side. By all counts, some version of Java now exists on many more client devices than does Windows (including desktop systems, phones, gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and even credit cards). Java has the all-important buzz too. 3G networks may be the all-the-rage at this year's CeBIT, but more important are the applications they will enable. Judging by the number of Java-enabled phones (e.g., Sony Ericsson's Z700 and P800), Java is far ahead of the Windows alternative (a variant of Windows CE)."


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