Java, Java everywhere

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice-president of software at Sun Microsystems Inc., wears the satisfied smile of a politician who’s so sure he’ll be elected that he’s already bought a house close to the capitol. In his view, the tally is a formality. Schwartz seemed ready to repaint the JavaOne banner outside the recent show at San Francisco’s Moscone Center to read “Java Won.”

What did Java win? For one thing, it won Sun, which is now perfectly content to be known as The Java Company. Java phones, Java desktops, Java servers, Java chips, Java tools. Java, Java, Java. Everyone (including me) who has been screaming at Sun to turn Java into a Sun brand should feel vindicated. Or maybe we should let Schwartz rap our knuckles with a ruler for imagining Sun didn’t plan this all along. Did I mention Java?

Java won Sun a seat at the table with some impressive company: Motorola Inc., Intel Corp., Texas Instruments Inc., Siemens AG, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Nokia Corp., Oracle Corp., and SAP AG among them. Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Computer Corp. inked a deal to install Sun brand Java on all of their Windows PCs. They must have seen some handwriting on the wall, because moving in advance of the judge’s ruling (Sun won, the judge is set to rule on Microsoft’s appeal) might sour cozy relations with its No. 1 partner.

Java won a big one by default. A year ago, .Net had acquired so much momentum, it looked like Microsoft could put Sun’s lights out at will. Then Microsoft did something I still can’t fathom. It nuked the .Net brand, which vanished from Smartphones, PDAs, set-top boxes, clients and servers. Without .Net, what can Microsoft use to present its software as a unified, integrated offering? Maybe the time-tested brands Windows and Office will do. Whatever the logic, Microsoft is assuming that Sun is done, so it has all the time in the world to bake a new strategy. It doesn’t. Sun doesn’t have to backtrack and reposition; its message has been fairly consistent, even though its execution wavers.

So Schwartz has good reason to be content. Still, there are places where Sun’s strategy could veer off into the weeds. No one has seen Sun’s Orion server yet, and Sun admits the publicized $5,000 price tag is a ballpark figure. It will be at least a year before manufacturers burn the far more capable second-generation mobile Java into their devices. Nokia and others are successfully playing the Symbian operating environment (programmable in C and Java) as a marketing advantage for its popular line of high-end phones. Microsoft will make sure its .Net framework sits alongside the Java run time on all Windows machines. And Redmond appears ready to spend whatever it takes to blast Sun’s Java marketing campaign out of the water, rushing to get its Windows Server System out in front of J2EE.

At the end of our discussion, I asked Schwartz for his thoughts about a couple of news items. In the SCO suit against IBM, Schwartz’s concern is for IBM’s vulnerable customer base. He believes IBM had a duty to indemnify customers from legal action taken against the company. And on the matter of The Open Group’s lawsuit against Apple regarding the Unix trademark, Schwartz delivered my favourite quote of the discussion: “Apple did us a huge favour by choosing Unix for its machines. Someone should tell The Open Group to shut up.”

Open Group, please shut up.