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My impressions of the "Java" Desktop System demo

A Java developer's first look at Sun's new desktop system

Sun gave a demo of their new Java Desktop System at last week's AustinJUG meeting. Of course, the "Java" Desktop has absolutely nothing to do with Java. I see it as an admission by Sun that the Sun brand is dead. Nobody wants to buy Sun hardware or software anymore. But, the Java brand still has some value. My biggest fear in all of this is that instead of letting Java pull Sun up, Sun has insured that the Java brand is going down with the Sun ship. Let's all hope that Sun's fortunes turn.

An interesting point is that the Java Desktop System runs only on x86 hardware and not on anything that Sun actually produces. Of course, that's what the underlying Linux software runs on, so there isn't much surprise in that. This isn't the first time Sun has supported non-Sun hardware better than its own. Keep in mind that it wasn't until Java 1.3 that the Sun JVM on Sun hardware actually was as stable as the Sun JVM running on windows. I recall the pain of trying to keep 1.2 and older JVMs up and running on Sun hardware. It wasn't pretty.

Looking at the system, it's basically a standard Linux distro that has been perverted to look exactly like a Windows system. Star Office ships with it, to provide the MS Office components. Evolution, the Outlook clone, has been bundled with an Exchange plugin. Mozilla is perhaps the only part of the system that isn't a direct copy of something from Microsoft, and not surprisingly is the only part that truly surpasses its MS counterpart.

I can imagine the business case for putting out a $100 windows clone, but this certainly doesn't look like any Linux box I'd enjoy working on. One of the main reasons I haven't really looked back that much after moving to OS X for my non-work activities is that most Linux desktops are trying to model themselves after the dysfunctional MS desktop. What joy is there in running a cheap knockoff of a second rate desktop? I'd much rather see Linux desktops copy OS X. If you aren't going to innovate anymore, at least copy the guys who are innovating.

Of course, Sun's goal isn't to innovate or even be great. They are trying to undercut MS by providing a "good" enough alternative to Windows that people who only know Microsoft can use without noticing any real differences. That's not a system that I want to touch, but I can understand the motivation.

With Redhat abandoning Linux on the Desktop, there's really room for Sun to do something. I don't know if Sun can capitalize on the opportunity, but it will be interesting to see them try.

More Stories By Norman Richards

Norman Richards is a JBoss developer living in Austin, Tx. He is co-author of JBoss: A Developer's Notebook and XDoclet in Action.

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