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Who Is Right About Java?

Who Is Right About Java?

Who is right about Java? Is it software executive Tod Nielsen, whose advice - in reference to J2EE - is "simplify and accelerate"? Is it Eric S. Raymond, who says, as often and as loudly as possible, "Let Java go" - i.e., open source it? Is it Javalobby's founder Rick Ross, who says, "Let's rally the industry into action and create a cooperative industry alliance for Java platform marketing"? Or is it marketing consultant Joshua Greenbaum, who in an open letter to Scott McNealy recently wrote: "It's time [for Sun] to get real about enterprise software"?

Can there ever have been another technology in the past 50 years where so many people who didn't own it had such strong views on it? And herein, of course, lies the problem: it would make no sense to have a view on Java at all if it were just another proprietary technology. It is precisely because Java is positioned at the interface of closed and open technologies that we hear so many pundits offering their two cents. Everyone feels that they "own" Java.

Who Is Right About Java?
Asked about Java on the Microsoft platform just over a year ago, Scott McNealy's standard response was "We want the ability to interoperate and the ability for Java to have a chance to play on the desktop and on the MS server platform." Now, with the Microsoft-Sun 10-year friendship pact in place, it remains to be seen what the interoperability story will be. Cedric Beust, a senior software developer, wrote recently in his personal blog that he wants to be able to write Java code for the .NET platform.

"I don't mean writing Java on a Windows platform (I do that every day and it's working very well)," Beust wrote, "but being able to access the native Win32/ .NET APIs from Java."

"Java Everywhere" takes us back to 1998, when electronics and networked computing had converged to such an extent that McNealy delivered his first ever keynote at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, fired up by the prospect of Java becoming the enabling technology for everything from smart cards to smart automobiles, from set-top boxes to jewelry that could provide access to buildings.

That was the year of PersonalJava, Sun's software platform created specifically for network-connectable consumer devices; its reference implementation was announced in Las Vegas that day. PersonalJava, McNealy was certain, had the potential to generate a wealth of applications for set-top boxes by allowing developers to write software without being tied to a single operating system. From this early attempt at a smaller footprint Java for mobile devices sprang the seeds of Java on wireless handsets on a massive scale. And by February of this year Sun was announcing that Java could now be found on "250 million mobile phones, 650 million desktops, 500 million SIM and smart cards, and a hundred million other locations."

Whether it is everywhere or not, and no matter how pervasive, McNealy's Java is clearly not Raymond's Java, nor is it Ross's.

But it might well be on its way to becoming Beust's Java and Greenbaum's Java. As recently as last year, McNealy was saying - at JavaOne - "Our belief is you don't make money owning the language. You make money doing things in the language. The more people using Java, the bigger the total available market we have." What will he be saying at JaveOne this year, at the end of June? Especially now that he's made it crystal clear, as he did at the FOSE Conference in March, that Java isn't about to be open sourced any time soon. Will Sun confirm that it is indeed going to embark on a spending spree, as Greenbaum recommends, acquiring some of the Java solutions that everyone else is "building on Sun's dime"?

The best advice, it has often been said since, is to ignore advice. Life is too short to be distracted by the opinions of others. Or, as George Burns once said, "It's too bad that all the people who really know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair."

As for Scott McNealy - or, for that matter, Jonathan Schwartz, now Sun's president and COO and manifestly bursting with ideas and initiatives - I can't help thinking that they must both be wishing that everyone followed the lead of Harry S. Truman when offering sage counsel to his children. "I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want - and then advise them to do it."

If only things in the Java ecosystem were that simple.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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