JavaOne 06: The Day After

JavaOne 06 has come and gone, but just be absolutely sure that I've wrung it completely dry, I reached across the Atlantic this weekend for some additional perspective from my two favorite British IT industry watchers.

I first met Neil Macehiter when he was working at Ovum, and I bugged him fairly relentlessly while working on stories about enterprise architecture, SOA, Web services, virtualization, and ID management. Surprisingly, he still talks to me. I began annoying his partner, Neil Ward-Dutton, about a year ago, when the two analysts hung out their own shingle to form Macehiter Ward-Dutton , a Cambridge, UK-based advisory firm focused exclusively on IT-business alignment. Ward-Dutton's expertise is app dev, biz integration tools, process management, platforms, enterprise architecture, and SOA. He's not sick of me yet, either. (Or he's too polite to say so.)

I communicated with the two Neils via email, because I can never seem to get it together to call from Silicon Valley USA before the end of business, GMT, in freakin England.

JKW: Why is Sun Microsystems now promising to give up its proprietary interest in Java?

Neil M: I think that Sun's decision to open source Java is partially a continuation of its broader open-source strategy (Solaris, SPARC, Enterprise Java System stack). It seems pretty clear that the company believes the developer community is key to its strategy of providing the ''modular infrastructure of the internet…'' Microsoft has shown how powerful this is. Plus, as the announcement with Ubuntu—and the strong hints that they will be making an announcement around Linux and Niagara—indicates, Sun recognizes that Linux is a key route to the developer community, and they need to make it as easy as possible for that community to use Java. That's also evidenced by the growing support for scripting languages on the JVM. (Keep in mind that the control of the evolution of Java is primarily governed by the Java Community Process rather than Sun.)

Neil W: There is a group of people out there who will only select/bundle/deploy OSS technologies, and Sun wants to ensure that Java can play in these scenarios. Of course, these scenarios are hardly mainstream today, and this is just one reason I see this primarily as a defensive move—a ''just in case'' move. Sun can afford to lose the licensing revenue, and it obviously now believes that if it is to talk the talk of providing the infrastructure for Web 2.0, it can't afford not to walk the walk.

JKW: Is Jonathan Schwartz the main driver behind the strategy?

Neil M: I absolutely believe that Schwartz has been instrumental in this. However, I do not believe it is a result of his transition to the new role, which happened only three weeks ago. JavaOne is the obvious place to announce plans to open source Java, and perhaps the company timed his transition to CEO to allow him to make the announcement as a first major initiative in the 'new' Sun. And it would have required something of an about face had McNealy announced it.

JKW: How seriously should we take him, given that he offered no date certain?

Neil M: I think the intention should be taken seriously. As a new CEO, he Schwartz is not going to make such a commitment and then turn around and change it. And, of course, there's [returning executive VP of Sun Software] Richard Green in his new role, who obviously is involved. But he and Green went to some lengths to explain that the question is ''how''—how will they ensure that compatibility is not compromised, what license will they use, etc… To some extent, this can provide them with a get out-of-jail card, but I think any such pronouncement would be met with significant skepticism and scrutiny.

JKW: What do you think the impact of an open-sourced Java would be on Sun and Java developers?

Neil M: Sun has struggled to exploit its ownership of Java and translate it into revenue and profit, in contrast to some of its competitors (except perhaps in the telecoms market), so I don't believe open sourcing will have a negative effect on the bottom line for Sun. For the vast majority of developers, I don't think it makes much difference. They are writing to higher level frameworks and won't need to see the source code—and they can see it now if they need to. It will primarily appeal to the developers of open source infrastructure/tools, etc.

Neil W: I also think Sun is betting that making this move will help consolidate the tools/middleware supplier community, which has always been ''tending towards open'' (IBM, BEA, Sun itself, Oracle, plus other newer players) around open-source infrastructure components—which of course throws Microsoft's position into starker contrast. In many ways, this is just the latest incarnation of the Microsoft-vs.-everyone-else battle that's been going on since the early 1990s.

JKW: Can you explain Sun's ongoing and downright ferocious commitment to NetBeans? Why is the company investing so much energy and money in a free IDE when Eclipse has effectively unzipped the Java tools market?

Neil M: As I said before, Sun believes that the developer community is key to allowing it to establish the relationships with enterprises, service providers, etc., that are required to sell its infrastructure. If that community is focused on Eclipse, and Java is open source, then why would the developers need a relationship with Sun? Another factor here is IBM, which Sun clearly sees as its primary competitor. (That's probably why Marc Fleury of JBoss turned up to announce participation in the NetBeans community.) It's certainly going to be tough for Sun, given the dominance of Eclipse and the participation of the likes of BEA, Oracle, SAP, etc., but I think they will stick at it for the reasons above.

Neil W: Historically Sun's ambivalence towards Eclipse [stemmed from] its use of the SWT GUI toolkit—which from a purist's point of view wasn't completely cross-platform—rather than Sun's preferred Swing toolkit. However, the longer the debate goes on, and the further Eclipse pulls ahead, the clearer it is that customers don't care. Sun shouldn't care either. My feeling is that Sun is starting to look pretty quixotic on this one. It's now more of a political stance than anything else; they're worried that they'll look foolish if they change their minds.

JKW: Java EE 5 seems to have put enterprise Java back in the spotlight. With EJB 3.0 and annotations, enterprise Java is looking pretty good. Any thoughts on where these improvements will lead?

Neil W: I believe JEE is still too complex for the base of developers out there who want to do simple things quickly. There's a very large crowd using JEE today, and the enhancements are good for them. But JEE's challenge is to remain relevant in a world now populated by many other interesting alternatives when it comes to lightweight Web site/Web services development/integration: PHP, Ruby on Rails; 'simple' Plain-old-java-objects + Spring/Hibernate. It's not just JEE vs .NET any more.

JKW: Thanks, and cheerio!

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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