Developer conferences tend to be part party, part geek fest – albeit increasingly cool geek fests – as developers burn candles at either end fitting a year’s worth of schmoozing and learning into a few days. Sun’s recent JavaOne in San Francisco was no exception as the 103 hour marathon session started with the usual “Java rules, Micro-who?” talk.
“I don’t know whether we take Java for granted,” said Ed Zander, president of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. Others talk about .Net, C# or what ever they call it, he said taking the requisite jab at the Redmond, Wash. powerhouse. There was even reference at a later press conference that Microsoft’s C# (pronounced C Sharp) was nothing more than a knock-off of Java.
During the keynote he went as far as saying that Java is one of the big three computer technology inventions along with the microprocessor and the Ethernet.
There was nary a murmur of scepticism to this claim, as is often the case when you are preaching to the converted.
The keynote continued with talk of such things as how there are a million plus Java students in China (though, not surprisingly, no mention as to how many Visual Basic students the country has) and that recent statistics from the Evans Group show the number of Java developers now outnumber those using Microsoft’s Visual Basic.
Much of the focus during the keynote was Java technology on mobile devices, especially cell phones. A Japanese JPhone with a built-in camera using Java technology was brought out for all to see.
The claims of Java as the be all and end all language were unmistakable.
But analysts were not as quick to agree.
“I am by no means convinced that Java is some kind of universal and wonderful panacea for all of these different form factors,” said James Governor, analyst with Illuminata in London.
“Sun is trying to pitch Web services as a function of Java. It isn’t,” he continued.
“I really do feel that with Web services, Sun is missing the point,” he added.
“You could have a fully built out Web services infrastructure that didn’t have any Java in it at all.”
Mark Driver, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, said the mobile focus had some of its own potential sand traps to avoid. He said the build-it-and-they-will-come attitude is not ideal since there aren’t enough applications available yet and the infrastructure is not as advanced as it is in Europe and Japan.
Even Sun’s vice-president and Java’s founding father James Gosling admitted in a subsequent interview that mobile cellular infrastructure in North America is “Neolithic” compared to places like Japan.
“It is an issue of infrastructure,” he said. Though he added that there is a lot of change and growth going on as companies such as Nokia and AT&T come on board.
Governor sees the mobile environment as being a tough area for all involved.
“In the mobile space that is going to be the battle royal,” with the likes of Motorola, JPhone, Do Co Mo.
“I think Sun is going to have a very hard job of sort of maintaining purity with mobile Java,” he predicted.
The other potential hazard Driver foresees is that mobile devices tend to be the first to go when companies tighten their financial belts, as they are doing in today’s economic environment.
In Sun’s defence Gosling said the talk with companies about Java-enabled phones has been going for seven or eight years. All of this occurring long before the recent economic downturn.
jAVA IS HERE TO STAY
Java is a production class environment now, Governor admitted.
“When I looked at the vendors and what they were pitching, now it is not just stuff you can do, now it is how…I manage the stuff I have built,” he said.
It was also good to see BEA Systems Inc. finally stepping up to the plate with some Web services announcements, he added. Additionally it was “nice to see CA (Computer Associates) getting Java religion.”
Governor saw more Sun-shine, though with partial cloudiness.
“For anyone not building components using Microsoft environments, J2EE is where everything is going…J2EE is where the industry is heading,” he said.
Though if you are already a Microsoft organization you are not going to go out and try to learn everything about Java, he added.
“You have got to remember as far as Sun is concerned anything that Microsoft does it seemingly has to do as well,” he said disagreeing with Sun’s assessment of who does the leading.
Governor had some concern of this apparent obsession.
“It just seems like they are so obsessed with Microsoft and what Microsoft is doing that they don’t necessarily see what is happening in the market and Web services is really about a different kind of interoperability, it is about loosely coupled applications connected over the Web using XML,” he added.
“Quite frankly Web services means…who cares what platform it is on as long as I can access it.”
Driver said Sun is ignoring the Microsoft threat in the .Net environment.
“It will come back and haunt them, I can guarantee,” he said.
Which means when it comes to Sun vs. Microsoft you can pretty much see it any way you want to.