Java’s Biological Imperative

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Biologists tell us that most, if not all, living species are driven ultimately by a single, basic need to propagate and ensure the continued survival of their own kind. To achieve this end, most entities will defend themselves and their offspring vigorously from any and all attacks.

Last week at JavaOne, Sun gave us a firmer glimpse of its defense of what is potentially its most important child, Java. With a few announcements this week as well as handful of prior developments, Sun sketched a sweeping plan to propagate Java into environments of all shapes and sizes, hoping that, as with Windows, ubiquity begets revenues. Perhaps the most interesting facet of this multi-pronged defense is that it’s not an individual crusade – quite the contrary. Sun is attempting to answer the proverbial “You and what army?” question with a broadly-based network of supporters. Sun is trying to grow the entire Java pie in order to drive revenues, rather than just focusing on immediate tactical questions. This is an incredibly bold move for a firm under severe pressure to grow revenues, but Sun has a long term vision and plans to stick with it. As one dramatic example, Sun wants to try to grow the total number of Java developers from around 3 million to 10 million. That potentially means a lot more buyers of Java technology, and consequently Sun products.

Who is Sun trying to enlist?

  1. Junior Developers: with Project RAVE, Sun is attempting to appeal to less experienced developers, the non-EJB coding contingent; this tool uses abstraction and Visual Basic-like elements to vastly streamline the Java development process.
  2. Scripting Developers: as one speaker from O’Reilly publications noted, based on the admittedly suspect metric of scripting book sales, there are at least as many scripting coders out there as Java coders. Scripting languages have always appealed to a certain class of developer because of the low learning curve, short time to product, and overall flexibility JSR 223 is an attempt to bring these developers into the Java fold.
  3. Consumers: with the launch of a more consumer-oriented Java portal; – Java.com and the unveiling of an expensive and expansive new Java ad campaign, Sun is attempting to appeal, for the first time, to consumers. Like Intel and Dolby before them, Sun would like to have everyday, average consumers looking for a Java logo even if, as is often the case with Intel and Dolby, they’re not exactly positive what the logo means.
  4. PC Manufacturers the announcement that the two largest desktop manufacturers in the world, HP and Dell, had agreed to include Java on all of their desktops, delivered by Sun software head Jonathan Schwarz as the highlight to Wednesday morning’s sessions, allows Sun to bypass Microsoft’s decision to omit Java from its Windows desktop.
  5. Frustrated Windows Customers: in a multifaceted announcement, Sun detailed its plans for an alternative desktop, which include the launch of a development community oriented around developers for a Java based desktop and a set of prebuilt building blocks which provide downloadable desktop components. Along with products like SuSE’s Enterprise Desktop, Sun is pitching an alternative to those enterprise customers whose users need only a fraction of the functionality that Windows provides but nevertheless have to pay full price.
  6. Mobile Manufacturers: Motorola, Nokia, Siemens, Sony Ericsson, and Sun announced an agreement to unify their testing and certification programs; additional announcements were made regarding new developer programs and a J2ME certification process.

So what conclusions can we draw from this set of announcements, other than the fact that it was a busy week at JavaOne? Well, for one, Sun is having some real success in its recruiting and potentially partnering efforts. Dell, HP, Motorola, Nokia, Siemens and other partners are major players in the industry. While clearly Sun has significant execution challenges in front of it, most notably in technical development areas like Project RAVE and JSR 223, its campaign to bring Java to the masses is moving right along.

Will this initiative ultimately be successful enough to put Java everywhere, not to mention make it a household name? RedMonk believes that Sun’s comparisons to the Dolby and Intel campaigns are perhaps a bit of a stretch, because those efforts were conducted at the very beginning of their respective platforms. Many people, for example, were conditioned as it were, to buy Dolby it was on their first stereo and has been their preference ever since. Java, in that respect, is possibly a bit late to the game. Having said that, mobile and cellphone services, beyond text messaging, are in their infancy and Sun has done an amazing job of propagating J2ME to phone manufactures and carriers. Now it wants to leverage that towards a similar consumer conditioning, though with more aggressive branding.

While the progression from enterprise technology to consumer name brand may be an uphill battle, RedMonk believes the real opportunity lies, as always in the IT industry, in the volume play. Ubiquity of a technology is except in anti-trust scenarios never a bad thing. So while McNealy’s rhetoric about taking the offensive is a sign that Sun is ready to defend its highest profile offspring, RedMonk believes that Sun’s success in this effort will be determined partially by its ability to meet that most basic of biological functions – propagation. Strong and ubiquitous brands provide sales opportunities for the owners of those brands. First comes biology, then comes economics.

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