Developers or bust for Sun

The Sun swagger of past years was missing somewhat from last month’s JavaOne conference, as executives concentrated on convincing the high-tech world -- and its developer base -- that all will be good in the world of Java. Oh, and that Sun is not in the midst of a downward spiral that could lead to an acquisition or worse.

Clearly, the bursting of the Internet bubble hurt Sun as much as any firm in the computer business over the past couple of years. Much of Sun’s growth in the late 1990s came from sales of expensive servers to fledgling Internet firms, many of which failed to survive the downturn. Observers have wondered for some time whether a rebound plan would emerge from Sun executives as losses mounted, sales declined and the workforce was cut.

At this year’s JavaOne event, which drew a noticeably smaller and more serious crowd to San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Sun executives provided some answers, outlining plans to spread the song of Java to the masses, and thus boost the potential audience for systems to run and build Java apps. Most important, Sun began a renewed push to court developers with the unveiling of a low-end toolset that company officials said eases the process of helping Visual Studio and .NET developers to start building Java-based apps.

To get Java recognized outside the high-tech world, Sun plans a branding campaign to get the Java logo -- a new, streamlined logo built with the consumer world in mind -- onto mobile devices, such as cell phones, PDAs and the like. And the much-hyped agreements by Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard, disclosed during JavaOne, to ship the latest Java versions on desktop and laptop computers gets the technology on millions of desktops despite Microsoft’s decision to halt support for Java. The goal: to boost demand for Java apps.

The new toolset, dubbed Project Rave, aims to get those apps built quickly and into corporate desktop and mobile machines. Sun officials admit that converting Microsoft Visual Basic and VB.NET developers is vital to a successful plan. Rich Green, Sun’s development platform VP, told ADT that “there’s an enormous, relatively untapped pool of developers that want to use Java. This will allow us to get Java to several million more developers.”

Sun has spent millions -- acquiring Forté, NetBeans and assorted app servers among other moves -- in less-than-successful efforts to gain access to developers. This effort appears more coordinated, but requires buy-in from a sales force that makes money selling hardware. Can it be done? Sure. These are pretty smart folks who know that the status quo could lead Sun down the path of Data General and Digital Equipment, once high-flying hardware makers that never figured out how to successfully respond to market changes.

Related stories:

Briefing Book: JavaOne Wrapup

Briefing Book: Java Update

About the Author

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.


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