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What, Where, or Who Is Java?

What, Where, or Who Is Java?

Ask most people on the street what Java is and they might tell you it's an Indonesian island. If you happen to bump into some programmers, they'll probably tell you it's a language that reads like C++ but has garbage collection and a virtual machine to make it portable. The connection is reputedly the syllogism where the island gives name to its coffee, people drink coffee while surfing the Web, and Java is the computer language of the Web.

Most folks don't mistake volcanic islands with programming languages and there's enough clear water between Jakarta and San Jose to avoid any confusion. What troubles me is that the adjective Java within IT itself is no longer as clear as it once was.

The words Desktop Java when browsed on, for example, talks very clearly about J2SE, with Desktop being a subgroup along with Core Java, Embedded, and Realtime. However, you'll also find hits around the Java Desktop System and stories of how it's going to be bundled with Linux and dethrone the Microsoft operating system and MSOffice. The Java Desktop System is a grouping of various apps such as a browser, office, mail, and other commodity programs that all run on Linux and, bundled together, provide a pretty solid operating environment. I take my hat off to everyone who works on it and wish them nothing but success; my fight is with whoever decided to give it the "Java" adjective.

A few weeks ago The Hindu, an Asian newspaper, ran a story that showed Scott McNealy unashamedly plugging the Java system for the desktop environment in India (
2003101600070200.htm). It's a fun read except that it horribly confuses the Java programming language with Sun's all-in-one Linux desktop program suite. To make things clearer to its readers in case any of them were confused about what Scott is selling, it has a paragraph authoritatively lifted word for word from the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia that extols the virtues of the Java language and its ability to run cross platform in applets.

At Java Developer's Journal I have the nice title of "Desktop Java Editor." I review and help to put together content related to J2SE, yet I get press releases from people wanting me to plug the "Java Desktop System"; recently I received an e-mail from an editor of another very reputable technology publication who asked me to comment on the recent news that the "Java Desktop system" now included StarOffice 7. He assumed, not unnaturally, that "Desktop Java" = "Java Desktop System."

There are countless other examples of where the Java desktop is being confused with the Java language, and I can't help but believe that this is something being deliberately done by the lad or lassie at Sun who named it in the first place. Did a desperate marketing person trying to come up with a sexy name for their desktop suite think that no confusion would exist, or was this Machiavellian move an attempt to deliberately confuse people and let the kudos, image, and good name of the Java language be used to market Sun's Linux desktop system?

In the guidelines on usage of their trademarks ( it states: "Unauthorized use of Sun trademarks or of marks that are confusingly similar to Sun trademarks may constitute an infringement of Sun's trademark rights." This means that if you came up with, for example, a 100% Pure Java suite of desktop programs and wanted to call it "My super duper Java desktop," you couldn't unless you got a license agreement from Sun. Furthermore the site states that to use Java branding, you must certify against the Java Test Compatibility Kit, something that most of the "Desktop Java" suite doesn't even come close to, given that parts of it are written in C++.

While I'm on my soap box, I'd like to mention Sun Java Studio Creator. I love the product, haven't a bad word to say about anyone who works on it, but on it lists the creation of Sun Java Studio Creator in 2004 as one of the three most important events in Java's history that year - together with the release of Java 5 (aka Tiger) and the Mars Rover buggies being powered by Java (the bit about the rover's software crashing and crippling the unit for a month is left out). My memory may not be as good as the Sun employees who write the content for, but in 2004 I also remember key events such as the incredible growth of JBoss and the release of Eclipse 3.0.

If Sun can't eat their own dog food when it comes to the usage of the Java brand, and repeatedly ignore everything else that goes on in the Java community that they don't control or are part of, then it is their loss. Java technology is big enough that it has, and will, continue to win over C# and Java is the language choice of three-quarters of the people building Web apps. There are millions of programmers who write Java programs, countless individuals who tirelessly create great and truly open communities based around Java technology, and thousands of successful companies that use Java technology effectively to solve their business problems on a daily basis. History books are written by the winning side, while propaganda can be written by anyone.

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

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Most Recent Comments
Joe Winchester 11/25/05 11:23:11 AM EST

Interesting news Calum. does indeed state that release 3.0 is only available on Solaris 10. Does this mean Sun is withdrawing support for Linux as a client ? How does this affect the much publicized news that WalMart were going to sell JavaDesktopSystem PCs ? A quick look on walmart's web site shows the JavaDesktopSystem PC is out of stock. Not sure if this is cause it is so popular or that wasn't a big seller.

Calum 11/25/05 08:07:28 AM EST

Worth pointing out the Java Desktop System isn't just for Linux... in fact, the most recent (and, likely, future) versions are only available for Solaris.

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