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Does Sun's Desktop System 'Hijack' the Java Brand?

From the Editor-in-Chief

Like many of you, I keep an eye on what Sun is doing as a company. I keep an eye on their press releases, official statements, and general product lines. I don’t necessarily pay a great deal of attention to the output unless it specifically mentions Java because, as we know, there is more to Sun than just Java.

I’ve known about their "Mad Hatter" (Linux desktop) project for some time now. It’s essentially a collection of open source projects, all designed to work together in one desktop, running initially on Linux. This is Sun’s continued play to become a single-stop solutions company. As Scott McNealy remarked at his Sun Network 03-Q3 keynote in San Francisco in September: "We're the IT company, not you."

However, at the Sun Network event, Sun announced it is renaming the project the "Java Desktop System."

Excuse me? The Java Desktop System? What's that all about? Deep within the bowels of Sun, someone has decided that associating it with Java in a clear and concise marketing message will increase the success of this project. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But it’s one heck of a gamble.

Leaving aside the fact that the name is misleading since the "Java Desktop System" has very little to do with Java, I am prompted to ask why not call it the 'Star Office Desktop System' or the "Mozilla Desktop System'" - or even the "Sun Desktop System"? When you say Java Desktop System, I instantly think of the ill-fated JavaStation. (Remember the Java shark fin terminals?) This was a Java desktop. Everything running was Java. The only native app you could run was a Java class file. That’s how native it got.

As announced in San Francisco, the Java Desktop System on the other hand is not a pure Java platform. It's not a single JVM controlling the whole desktop. Java is merely the recommended language; Sun is encouraging us to write our apps destined for that desktop in Java. To call it the Java Desktop System is being disingenuous.

I wish Sun lots of success with this, but historically they aren’t renowned for succeeding in the software world. Sun ONE didn’t rock any boats, Forte didn’t shake any trees, and we can only hope that Project Rave is going to come within at least a sniff of all the marketing hype.

The issue is that the Java brand has been hijacked for a project that has very little to do with Java. The press are already writing about how the Java Desktop System is aimed to compete with Microsoft Windows and how well the one integrates with the other.

My fear for the wider Java community of developers is this: If this were to fail to knock Microsoft out of the desktop space, guess what will be blamed by the critics and the analysts? Not Sun, but Java. Sun is playing a game of Russian roulette with the prize china! Naturally Sun legally owns the Java brand, so you can argue that they can do with it whatever they please. But surely they have a duty of care to the community, a responsibility to it. Yes they own it, but aren’t they more a custodian of Java?

If this blows up in Sun's face, it blows up in all our faces. Java is struggling on the desktop as it is and only now are we clawing back with a strong viable solution that can offer a serious alternative. Surely we want to avoid doing anything that is going to set this momentum back.

We in the wider Java community ought not to allow Sun to take risks like this with "our" brand. We have too much invested in Java for Sun to be misusing the Java name without either the Java community or Java having a major play in it.

If the Java Desktop System fails, it won't be because of the Java component. My question is: If this doesn’t work out, how will we all be able convince the corporate world of that?

More Stories By Alan Williamson

Alan Williamson is widely recognized as an early expert on Cloud Computing, he is Co-Founder of aw2.0 Ltd, a software company specializing in deploying software solutions within Cloud networks. Alan is a Sun Java Champion and creator of OpenBlueDragon (an open source Java CFML runtime engine). With many books, articles and speaking engagements under his belt, Alan likes to talk passionately about what can be done TODAY and not get caught up in the marketing hype of TOMORROW. Follow his blog, http://alan.blog-city.com/ or e-mail him at cloud(at)alanwilliamson.org.

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