Profits-strapped Sun continues decade-long pitch to developers on Java dominance

The growing arenas of SOA, Web 2.0, cloud computing, webby applications design/delivery, OSGi container flexibility, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Adobe and Silverlight cross-browser development/deployment -- all are moving beyond the Java orbit.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

Leading up to the JavaOne developers conference, Sun Microsystems posted an embarrassing quarterly profit loss, is making OpenSolaris more open than ever, bringing the OpenSolaris platform value to the Amazon Web Services cloud, and is still using variations on the projectile theme to send T-shirts into the international crowd of eager Java developers.

Here in San Francisco on Tuesday, the 12th annual JavaOne developers conference opened, still drawing throngs of the Java devoted. It's clear from the gathering that Java tools, standards, middleware, runtime instances and distributed computing methods still dominate the non-Microsoft enterprise IT landscape.

Even as many other innovations over the past decade have encroached on and often out-delivered on the "write once, run anywhere" mantra, Java has done great things for the ability to develop and deploy complex, mission critical applications that leverage assets and resources across multiple tiers of computing. The n-tier computing model based on standards of interoperability is alive and well.

Java continues to play a binding role among hundreds of the most impactful IT vendors and their products -- from IBM to Oracle to SAP to developer consultancies of one busy person. Yet the arenas in which Java, now an open source reference model stack, dominates has is limits. Java's role in the future growth areas of Internet and mobile computing may well be as a foundational and necessary pivotal component.

But the growing arenas of SOA, Web 2.0, cloud computing, webby applications design/delivery, OSGi container flexibility, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Adobe and Silverlight RIA/cross-browser development/deployment -- all are moving beyond the Java orbit.

At the same time, Sun has aligned itself to Java so much it recently changed its stock ticker to JAVA. Sun certainly helped create the Java community and value -- with a lot of help -- but then also alienated many Java contributors and market drivers as Sun sought to dominate Java and to mashup Java's success onto Sun.

So far, some 13 years in, Java remains consistently more successful than Sun.

And there was plenty more evidence at this year's show of the always-interesting relationship between Sun and Java. Sun's Executive Vice President for Software Rich Green, in his keynote, said that the Amazon's Kindle device is powered by Java, even the store that the content is bought from, uses Java. And we were given a demo of Kindle's prowess by Ian Freed, vice president of Kindle at Amazon.

Interesting to note that neither the device, nor the cloud services supporting the Kindle's content sales and syndication, comes from Sun as a business. But the software was developed on Java. So, Java=1.0, Sun=0.1.

Rikko Sakaguchi, senior vice president of Sony Ericsson, showed some neat mobile handset devices running cool video and media. Java's role is core to the handset and content and applications. Java helps make the software run on the device, and encourages partners to develop content and apps. "Java powers the device," said Green. But again Java and Sony Ericsson=1.0, Sun=0.1.

We were also showed a demo of a Facebook widget, Connected Life, that at first crashed, perhaps due to Moscone Center's Internet connectivity. But then it came back up. The widget was written in JavaFX, a Sun scripting language and runtime. The demo showed that the widget can run in a browser or as a rich Internet application using Java runtime, but that crashed too. And the widget can run on mobile devices too.

JavaFX also allows for video to run, 2D and 3D. There was some nice eye candy, but nothing you can't get with Adobe AIR/Open Screen, Silverlight, or QuickTime, among other RIA approaches.

So Java still helps "write once, run anywhere." Facebook and widget writers with Java=1.0, Sun=0.4 (if it sells the tools and licenses the Java runtime, and perhaps sells some servers to Facebook).

JavaFX Mobile will be forthcoming (spring 2009)to allow one runtime across the mobile and desktop tiers (fall 2008), said Green. A demo showed a mobile device running the Android emulator running Connected Life. Showing that JavaFX-written applications runs in many places, including mobile phones supporting Java.

Sun took some heat last year when it introduced JavaFX, but the "create-once, present anywhere" value is clearly a priority for Sun, as well as for Adobe, Microsoft and others. Sun will try and leverage the Java runtime installed base to be a player in this market, but it will be a real tussle given the competition

Glassfish kernal container at 98 kB will also support a wide swath of device types, said Green. He said Glassfish downloads are robust and global. Recent MySQL addition to Sun is getting 65,000 downloads per day, said Green.

NetBeans ecosystem is growing year over year by 44 percent, based on active users, said Green. And Java ships in the prominent Linux distributions, including Ubuntu and Red Hat, he said.

Sun's Project Hydrazine offers a platform for mashable services in the cloud, for "find, merge, deploy and share," said Green. It's due in later 2009. Another project, Project Insight, involves managing actions of users and data for ad placement.

Sounds like Sun is building an ad delivery platform, or at least to manage the meta data that supports ad placements. So Sun is competing with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! on ad infrastructure?

Sun CEO and President Jonathan Schwartz said battle is brewing for development platform for next generations of devices. "No matter where they are, Java will reach them," said Schwartz.

He likes the idea that apps running in a browser can be dragged off of the browser by the end user and onto the desktop of devicetop, thanks to Java on the device.

"And it will all be free," said Schwartz. So again, Java=1.0, Sun=0.x.

Neil Young joined the Sun executives on stage. Neil likes Blue-ray, and plans to deliver a multimedia anthology content offering via Blu-ray from his illustrious and prolific 45-year career.

"Just recently we've been able to bring this forward, ... it's really quite an experience," said Young, referring to using Blu-ray and Java, over past technologies, including DVDs.

And Java runs on Blu-ray devices! So Java+Neil Young=1.0, Sun=0.x.

Sun continues to try and define x as a major means to drive its future growth and profits. Let's hope that the past is not prologue on that account.

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