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Oracle-Sun Deal Puts Java Back in the Limelight

It's almost impossible to overestimate the importance of Java to Oracle

"It's almost impossible to overestimate the importance of Java to Oracle," wrote industry commentator Neil McAllister as the first rumors of the Oracle-Sun deal began to surface last week. McAllister referred to Java as "the crown jewel of this deal." So the question reverberating through Javaland now is: does this mean Java is back in the limelight? Or will Oracle's proprietary ways intervene in the open-source trajectory for Java set by Sun?

In his internal memo to Sun staffers, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz yesterday wrote that "By acquiring Sun, Oracle will be well positioned to help customers solve the most complex technology problems related to running a business."

He added:

"A combined Oracle/Sun will be capable of cultivating one of the world's most vibrant and far reaching developer communities, accelerating the convergence of storage, networking and computing, and delivering one of the world's most powerful and complete portfolios of business and technical software.

I do not consider the announcement to be the end of the road, not by any stretch of the imagination. I believe this is the first step down a different path, one that takes us and our innovations to an even broader market, one that ensures the ubiquitous role we play in the world around us."

No actual mention of "Java" anywhere in the memo, but BusinessWeek this morning reminded everyone that during a conference call with analysts yesterday, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison called Java "the single most important software asset we have ever acquired."

BW's Aaron Ricadela comments:

"It's a bold statement from a chief executive who has spent in excess of $40 billion to buy more than 50 software companies since 2005. Ellison is willing to make that call because the Java programming language, widely used to write much of the world's business software, is a key ingredient in Oracle's recipe for ensuring the many products it has already acquired work smoothly together. Java also runs on 800 million PCs and 2.1 billion mobile phones."

On its website, Oracle has the following to say about Oracle and Java:

"Oracle has been a leading and enthusiastic supporter of Java since its emergence in 1995. Today, Oracle offers the most comprehensive and productive Java EE development and deployment environments available. The addition of BEA technologies further solidifies Oracle's Java leadership.

As an executive member of the Java Community Process, Oracle participates in more than 80 Java Specification Requests (JSRs) and Oracle gurus serve as specification leads for important JSRs such as the XQuery API for Java, Standard Data Binding and Data Access Facility for J2EE, and Design Time Metadata for JavaServer Faces (JSF) Components. Oracle TopLink Essentials is the reference implementation of the new Java Persistence API which is part of EJB 3.0. Oracle is also spearheading critical tooling projects for BPEL, JSF, and EJB 3.0 within the Eclipse Foundation open source community."

Former Oracle executive and industry veterean Jnan Dash isn't as certain as his former boss Larry Ellison about the business value, to Oracle, of Java. "The gain of the Java business is significant and Oracle mentioned that that will add to the middleware revenue. Time will tell, as development platforms are not usually good revenue generators," Dash notes.

Paul R. La Monica of CNN.com makes much the same point, writing, in a piece titled "Oracle's Strange Java Brew":

To be sure, Sun has some interesting software, namely its ubiquitous Java programming software language and its open source MySQL database software and Solaris operating system.

But software remains a tiny fraction of the business -- despite the company's changing of its ticker symbol from SUNW to JAVA in 2007 to tout its software prowess.

When the company reported its fiscal second-quarter results in January, Sun said that "total software" sales rose 21% from a year ago, which is impressive. But the annual run rate for the division was just $600 million.

To put that in perspective, analysts expect Sun to report total sales of $12.4 billion this year. Sun remains predominantly a hardware company stuck in a brutally competitive business. And that's why analysts expect the company to post a loss in this fiscal year."

Let's give the last word for the moment to the Washington Post's Rob Pegararo, who this morning writes:

"Sun's stewardship of Java has had problems, such as the exceptionally boneheaded auto-update routine of its Windows Java software that it only recently fixed. But will this software fare better under Oracle's supervision? That's hard to say, since Oracle's statements on the merger focus on how it plans to combine Sun's software and hardware offerings with its own enterprise-software products.

I can only hope, then, that the future of Java does not involve handing over its development to whoever's responsible for the one Oracle product I do use regularly -- a gruesomely awful Web-based expenses-reporting application that punishes users with one of the most illogical, least efficient interfaces seen outside of old versions of Lotus Notes."

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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