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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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Most Recent Comments
John Cook 10/24/03 01:02:13 PM EDT

Sun's goal here is to target a particular set of business PC users. There a huge number of PC's deployed across businesses that are used for only 1 or 2 specific purposes. This is a solution to save businesses money by deploying a cheaper, more secure solution for these users. HOWEVER, it opens the door for more 'Power Users' as more user applications are developed for Linux. Sun has done a good job of compiling a set of basic features on this Linux platform, but the ultimate realization won't come until somebody can act as a compiler and distributor of good, usuable desktop Linux solutions. Sun might be able to do this if they have initial success with the Java Desktop. But keep in mind that this initial rollout is targeted towards IT Managers and CIOs as a way to save their businesses money.

Kok Koon Leong 10/16/03 09:13:51 PM EDT

Sun should seek some kind of partnership with Borland or buy the rights to Borland's UI/RAD technology.

I only program in java because of JBuilder, Sun's Forte and IBM Visualage don't even come close to JBuilder.

Also, Sun should do something about speeding up java programs. If I want to write a program that is fast and slick, I would use Delphi, Visual Basic or even .NET (which is still faster than java).

Heresy: Maybe Sun should allow someone to create a native java executable compiler.

Deva 10/07/03 03:50:18 PM EDT


I totallty agree with your concern. I stopped by Sun's site the other day and read about the Java Desktop system. My first reaction was Oh hoh ! What the heck is this ? Another marketing gimmick ?

Sun may not do anything to make Java greater than what it is right now. I'll be happy if it doesn't do anything stupid to bury it.

My 2 cents.

Zandro 09/26/03 04:30:52 PM EDT

...the only highjacking which has occured is Williamson's frivilous use of this space.

Finally, a desktop choice that is usable and not owned and controlled by Microsoft.

Java Desktop System OPENS desktops for the first time in history. We will all profit from it. The name choice argument MISSES the point and the significance of OPEN. Should Red Hat also be condemned for 'highjacking' the linux name?

Alessandro 09/26/03 09:54:48 AM EDT

I thing "Java Desktop System" is the right name if this SO cames with all Java extensions, not just the JRE, as must thing.
There are some Java features and extensions just available with extra downloads, as:
* Java3D;
* JavaSound's General Midi databank (that 5MB file with high-quality sound samples)
* JMF - Java multimedia Framework;

Gregory Pierce 09/24/03 03:10:24 PM EDT

Sun, the keepers of Java need to make money. They happen to be tossing good money into Star Office (despite claims by some that the open source project 'lives on its own'). They also have a desktop environment that actually doesn't suck!

And then lets look at the more relevant side of things for us - IT GETS THE BRAND OUT. Java as a consumer brand is actually pretty weak and brittle. If one can get the brand of Java out there along with a JVM (and I would have to suspect that Sun has enough intelligence to be licensing this desktop environment to their Java OEM folks), consumers may actually *gasp* start seeking out Java solutions!

chi007 09/24/03 12:20:58 PM EDT

what i really think is this java desktop thing is a great idea .we developers should support it .

Jim Mitchell 09/24/03 11:00:40 AM EDT

... can we get a cool language, free; an IDE, free; an OS, free!

Ever got anything free from Gates & Co?

Sun's trying different tracks, OK. Maybe one of them will work!

Thomas Edison had 2,400 failures!

Bora Yuret 09/24/03 02:05:44 AM EDT

After Microsoft put the Java outside the Windows, people began to think Java will not be on desktop(These people generally does not know too much about Linux).

Sun had to give an answer to this wrong thought. Why are we in panic? Did we see the system? I think Sun has the right as the company who invented Java.

Sal Danna 09/23/03 09:44:36 AM EDT

Alan, thank you for your article. I share your concern for the continued success of Java. However, in speaking to our many customers involved with J2SE, J2EE and J2ME, Java technology is much bigger than Sun.

Malcolm 09/23/03 07:10:44 AM EDT

I think the Java Desktop System is a smart move by Sun. They do need to execute it correctly and integrate the various applications correctly as they say they will. There are a lot of people who do not want to pour the profits of their business into bill pocket. A viable alternative would be great.

However, even if it's adoption is not stellar, it will have been another try like licensing Java to Microsoft to get Java on the desktop. That did not work but Java survived and it will survive this time too.

S.C. 09/23/03 04:43:32 AM EDT

Linux is the ideal development platform for Java and C++. This JDS marketing will make it a lot easier to use Linux. That matters. Any step forward for Linux is a step forward for Java. They form together a framework.

Everything that Microsoft does calls .Net. It helps.

The battle is not anymore Windows vs Unix. Both will be around. It is Java agains .Net. Nowbody is interested in a language. What is important is a framework and the investment that companies do in that framework.

By calling everything Java ... it helps to understand that there is a concerted effort. I don't think it is a looser marketing.

Dave 09/21/03 08:51:08 PM EDT

I think that as long as there is an easy to use and install OS that guarantees my java app will run smmothly then this will be an asset in the marketplace.

One other thing, in my experience in the last 10 years, Sun's products seem to be improving at a quicker and quicker pace, faster than the opposition.

I have been using Sun ONE Studio(Forte) and it is a rock solid piece of software which does everything nost people need, for free, even on Windows.

I look forward with much anticipation to a serious attempt at a polished OS on windows hardware, it may be good?

softwareJoe 09/21/03 04:48:42 AM EDT


M. Whitener 09/20/03 11:42:14 AM EDT

... branding these freeware native binaries "Java" ... wish I had a better word. If anything, most of their desktop package proves that Java can't do the job! Sun apparently thinks MS made a mistake withdrawing ".NET" as a ubiquitous marketing term ... they are not only following MS, but following MS's mistakes! Ok, maybe I do have a better word: desparate.
And about this: "We're the IT company, not you.", Scott just can't quit being offensive, can he?

Noah Green 09/20/03 07:12:40 AM EDT

It's quite simple. The desktop will fail. Sun will fail. Java will not be blamed. Java will outlast Sun. Java on the desktop will continue to fail. Server-side Java will continue to succeed.

J. Lawson 09/19/03 07:47:36 PM EDT

Perhaps Sun sees the operating system as a device driver for Java. In that case, Java Desktop would make a lot of sense.

pcs 09/19/03 02:15:26 PM EDT

It's well known that they "couldn't market their way out of a wet paper sack," and as another post already pointed out, most of their UI's are exercises in frustration (to put it mildly). AppServer7 is a notable exception, while WebServer 6.1 is a continuing example.

From a technology view, I admire the company. But history has taught me to expect little from any new initiatives they announce.

Scott, how about hiring some marketing and UI design muscle to match up with the technical wizardry?

asj 09/19/03 12:49:42 PM EDT


the whole post did not fit into this miniscule textbox when i tried to paste it - sorry.

asj 09/19/03 12:43:50 PM EDT

The "Java" brand is one of Sun's most well-known and successful brand. Sun is at a cross-roads right now, and if this is not the time to pull out all the stops, then I don't know what is. I am MUCH MUCH heartened by the fact that they did not try to resurrect an all-Java workstation and try to do a Douglas MacArthur on the PC market. Linux is a much better solution and better answer to Microsoft PCs in the enterprise, and by cannily attaching the "java" brand to Linux, Sun not only wins over some of the many Linux advocates who usually spit on Java, they also attach Java to a new trend that is slowly but surely gathering speed - Linux desktops in the controlled environments of the corporate world.

jay 09/19/03 12:23:54 PM EDT

Nobody, nobody nobody I know is waiting for a "Java desktop". Honestly, if anything, the name will turn people off, rather than make them more interested.

Business doesn't buy just because it is "cool" technology. J2EE has been extremely successful because it works, but I honestly think that coming out with a Java desktop, even if it isn't really a Java-based desktop, is asking for egg on your face.

Oh, and the Linux desktop market is really really big right? ;-)

I love Linux, and Java, but my wife still hates my Linux box (Mandrake) and has never run a java app in her life.

Let them call it the Java desktop if they want. It won't sell

jason 09/19/03 12:15:13 PM EDT

Microsoft may not technically have a monopoly anymore on the desktop, but we all know they've cornered the market (one reason why Sun may be hijacking the Java name... it's the best known word of their brand titles and might prove to be the easiest to sell to companies and the public).

Selling Linux as a desktop alternative to Windows is going to be a huge challenge to begin with. That's even if the pieces of the system actually integrate well. But it can happen... maybe: a good WSJ article and a few major firms switching and giving testimony to big cost savings could get the ball rolling. But the system's got to work, really work.

But, seeme to me, the big question is: What kind of pull does Sun have with Dell, HP, and other PC makers (and ditributors and stores) so that users can easily opt for Sun's Java Desktop rather than Microsoft when they buy a new machine? If Sun's piece isn't easy to get, well, there you go.

Mark 09/19/03 10:48:42 AM EDT

Sun is trying to gain access to the desktop market as other big and powerful companies have (ibm - os2 warp, oracle - net appliance). They failed miserbly. Why? NO APPLICATIONS, AND NO PC VENDORS ON BOARD.

Nothing will change if Sun does not change this. After all from the desktop perspective they are wrapping up open source products into one/easier install. However, nothing is stopping corporations from using these products now.

Also, has anyone heard of Lindows! Same exact strategy as Mad Hatter.

As far as back end systems, I have developed with java and microsoft.

Let me tell you, I would not be a programmer if it were not for Microsoft.

Sun needs to develop faster, easier, and better tools to develop and deploy (desktop/web) applications regardless of what you call the thing. Marketing is key to any success, but marketing will only take you so far.

If it takes 3 times as long with twice the number of people to develop and deploy applications in you can forget it in the business world, even if the end product will be better.

Arron Bates 09/19/03 09:45:48 AM EDT

I'm getting sick about people that say Sun should give up Java, or stop using the brand as they see fit. It's their product. Everything about it is because they've stuck by their original plans and poured in the cash. No-one else is marketing Java itself, yet people say that Sun should do more for it.

If there was a Java campaign made like the "Got Milk?" ads, paid for by the whole Java community, then there may be merit to getting Sun to give it up.

People demand Sun play the one man band story to flog it, yet the want all the benefits of giving it to the masses. The Java community at large is now wanting it's cake and eating it too.

It's crapping me off.

Sun could use the Java brand to peddle crappy coffe up against Starbucks' crappy coffe. It'd be a shame, but all the power to them.

I feel truly greatful that Sun's done what they have let alone ask them for more. Sun, as a company, is truly cool.

Marcos Polanco 09/19/03 07:37:44 AM EDT

By using 'java' in their own produces (jsd, jes, java.com, java.net) they are no longer the technological switzerland. In the old system, sun used 'SunONE', IBM used 'WebSphere', an BEA used 'WebLogic' when talking about their platforms...Java was a neutral force. By hijacking the name for their own products, Sun is making it more difficult for others to play the Java game. Linux has remained neutral, and is reaping the benefits. Another one bites the dust.


ashutosh Kapoor 09/19/03 05:13:34 AM EDT

I am amazed to see the apprehensions within the family. I also feel it is a move loaded with risks. But the importance of Java desktop to the overall Strategy of low cost computing is very high

This along with the x86 strategy will definitely open more areas than just 64 bit market for SUN. Hence as a SUn employee I am optimistic of its Success. Amen!

Michael Bushe 09/19/03 01:56:55 AM EDT

"Java Enterprise System" is the back-end. Makes perfect sense since it's a J2EE server stack. So what do you call the front-end? The "Java Desktop System" of course. Makes perfect sense. It's not all Java at the front (nor in the back), but it's the way to access the Java Enterprise System. And in front of the front is a JavaCard to access the whole kitkaboodle. It's $100 per employee per year, another $20 for 24 hours support. I think it's a no-brainer for many outfits, and a seriously-consider for the rest. Who cares that it's not 100% Java? Though frankly, I'd love to have Java chipset on my PC loading a JavaOS (OK, just the OS would be good enough). I try to practice safe hex, but I still get viruses with my M$-based system.

Kiran 09/19/03 01:36:04 AM EDT

This is my appeal to Sun to let go of 'Java' in the interest of the Java developer community. A common platform should be built on which anybody should be able to contribute to the development of Java language.

I sincerely hope, Java lives eternally and improves as well. We the Java developers do not want Java to end with a Company.

kris 09/19/03 01:17:33 AM EDT

Why the hell does this page need to refresh every few seconds???

qmdb 09/19/03 12:59:46 AM EDT

The Sun Desktop project will not be a success. The weak point of a Sun product is always the User Interface. The are not capable of building a normal GUI, so building a complete Desktop will be very hard for them.

If it's not Java don't call it Java.

FmrWindowsAdmin 09/18/03 11:58:11 PM EDT

You think Sun doesn't have good software?. That hasn't stopped microsoft has it ? What Microsoft has & Sun doesn't is MARKETING. These guys need to start a campaign letting people see them as user friendly & caring if they want the desktop market, and as more high-level people are running IT departments, they need to do the same in the server market too.
I think Sun has a chance to pull this off, but not if the don't change their image to appeal to people that could care less about whats inside the computer, as long as it easy to use and does what they need it to do.

Reshat Sabiq 09/18/03 11:43:09 PM EDT

It may or may not put Java "brand" at risk, but it might be sensible marketing-wise. Java pushes demand for JDS, and JDS pushes demand for Java. As long as they don't mess up, this might be a good move.

Fremen 09/18/03 11:26:38 PM EDT

We should hijack Java - start a community project called "Earl Grey - Hot" (sorry, mixing my sci-fi :) and give the language an identity as a LANGUAGE, not the prostitute-toy Sun is using it for.

The spec is there, it only has to be compatible...

The spice must flow...

Mama Cass 09/18/03 11:12:07 PM EDT

it's a cult .. they have to change the name every couple of years when people catch on ..

Leroy Beaversdorf 09/18/03 11:03:47 PM EDT

This is the third (fourth?) name change from Sun in the last 18 months or so. WorkShop, Forte, Sun ONE, Sun Java ... What's next?

Martin Ord 09/18/03 08:15:17 PM EDT

These guys have poured probably billions into the platform, got screwed around by Microsoft and kept flying the flag when IBM was wavering - and remember it's "Sun's" Java Desktop. Love to see someone else step up to the plate.

And their desktop doesn't look like the piece o' crud RedHat desktop. They actually did work, unlike the rest of the "linux" industry that just puts CD's together.

Anonymous 09/18/03 07:36:24 PM EDT

Old wine in an old bottle? All the bundled software is already available as open-source, and what is new here? Any compelling reasons for (a) linux users to switch to Sun's desktop, and (b) non-linux users to suddenly see the light in Linux?

Weiqi Gao 09/18/03 07:09:10 PM EDT

Java is a trademark of Sun. They cn use it any way they see fit.

The thing that you thought were "Java" is actually the "Java(TM) Technology Platform" or the "Java(TM) Technology Language" if you ask Sun's lawyers.


Lifeone 09/18/03 06:50:06 PM EDT

I and quite a few other Sun employees that I have talked to dont like the new name either.

Sun ONE was doing perfectly fine as a brand for all the middle ware stack and now they call it Sun Java Enterprise System or something like that.

I dont believe Sun as a company has any intension whatsoever to *hijack* the brand but it is in my opinion a bad marketing move. And we have wrote the the people concerned. Lets see what happens.

Jason Briggs 09/18/03 04:54:30 PM EDT

We all know exactly what the brand would be worth without x million developers behind it. I think Sun Marketing has forgotten that 'small' fact when they decided to appropriate it for this purpose.

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