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Making the Grade

Making the Grade

We often think of business as a competitive sport, a contest to win customers, but it's much more than that. It's an education.

The business we're in - technology - happens to be one of the most competitive, and we thrive on that. But it also provides a classroom for something quite different: cooperation.

More than perhaps any other industry, the tech sector requires competitors to work together.

You can learn a lot about teamwork in sports, but we don't know of any sport where you cooperate with your opponents. In high-tech, you do. (Unless you're a monopolist.)

Nowhere is this more evident that in the case of a cross-platform technology known as Java. It was invented by one company but developed in cooperation with many others. Nobody has a monopoly on innovation, after all, and it's really astounding what can happen in terms of both innovation and across-the-board wealth creation when you create an open market.

The company that invented Java happens to be Sun Microsystems, but the technology has rapidly matured, thanks to the contributions of a global community that includes some of Sun's fiercest rivals.

Why do rivals cooperate? The answer lies in art, science, and philosophy - all required subjects for an advanced degree in business.

The key concept is that, in a networked world, agreed-upon standards make the market bigger for everyone. After all, my telephone is worth more to me if it works with your phone and vice versa.

That's the philosophy. The science is the underlying technology, and the art is in reaching agreement. In all those subjects, we'd say that the Java community has earned an A.

All Java specifications are developed in an open, industry-wide process, and adoption rates have been phenomenal: Every major technology company (except one) has adopted Java technology, and 80% of the world's companies are using it in their business systems.

Java technology has made the grade because it runs on personal computers, mobile phones, TV set-top boxes, smart cards, and network servers. The result is that a wide range of companies are selling Java products and services - companies such as IBM, Oracle, BEA, and Computer Associates, not to mention Electronic Arts, which recently ran 6 billion minutes of Java games online in a single month.

Add to that nine of the top 10 mobile phone makers - plus carriers covering the United States, Canada, Europe, Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan - and it's easy to see that Java has steadily opened new markets and new opportunities. (Handsets running Java software can bring in as much as twice the revenue per user by enabling access to new services.)

But the cooperative, cross-platform nature of the technology and its rapid adoption are really just object lessons in a special brand of alchemy that turns cooperation into gold.

Where Java really shines, and the whole community moves to the head of the class, is a subject that has grown in importance as network computing has become a vital component of the worldwide economy: security.

Strong security was designed into the technology from the get-go - strong typing, strong checking, and strong contracts between the pieces, if you want the technical terms. Seven years and two million software developers later, there's never been a Java virus of any consequence.

So give the Java community - partners and competitors alike - an A+ in both wealth creation and wealth preservation. If that doesn't win customers, we don't know what will.

More Stories By Jonathan Schwartz

Jonathan Schwartz is president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems. In this role he is responsible for operations and execution of Sun's day-to-day business including Systems, Software, Global Sales Operations, worldwide manufacturing and purchasing, customer advocacy and worldwide marketing. Prior to this position, he served as EVP of Sun's software group where he was responsible for the company's software technologies and business. While in this position, he revolutionized Sun's software strategy with the introduction of the Java System, an innovative collection of highly integrated software for the development, deployment and operation of Java technologies.

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