James Governor's Monkchips

The Emergence of Java Linux

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Over the last five years it has often seemed like strongest link between Java and Linux was on vendor slide decks, notably IBM’s.

The architecture charts look elegant and simple but the communities are often orthogonal. JBoss’ claim that 50% of implementations are on Windows is a pretty clear indicator that Java and Linux are not joined at the hand let alone the hip.

So what is the theme of Java One this year? How about – the emergence of Java Linux?

In the Monday keynote kickoff Ed Zander, Motorola CEO and former president of Sun, spoke to “Java Linux”. In the past Motorola has been conflicted about the OS. While it has sold some really cool phones in the Asian market that run Linux, the wireless service providers in Europe and the US have been more interested in Symbian and Windows mobile. Ed was very clear however that he sees the Java Linux combo as one his company should push more agressively.

So what about Ubuntu-which Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz described as “the most important Linux distribution”? (Mr Schwartz really does think like a developer, as apparently does Stephen…)

Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, Inc, the company responsible for the Ubuntu version of the Debian Linux distribution was on stage to announce that the Sun Java Runtime Environment (JRE) will now be easily installed alongside Debian packages using apt-get. The news may sounds arcane, but this is a very significant news, as explained by Stephen here, here and here.

Ian Murdock
, Debian founder, spoke to the news thusly:

We’re one step closer to a Java/Linux combo that’s more than just Java bolted onto the side of Linux (admittedly, there’s still a bit of that here, though at least it’s attached with standard componentry now rather than the old bubble gum and bailing wire).

Why is tighter integration important? Because the alternative, namely Windows and .NET, offers a tightly integrated combo that “just works”. The more a developer has to do (like, say, ship a bundled runtime because that runtime isn’t guaranteed to be available on a key platform), the more attractive the alternative looks.

The real question is: Will this be enough? I’ve long contended that open-source Java is a red herring—the real challenge for Java on Linux is ubiquity, not licensing, and licensing is really only an issue because it gets in the way of ubiquity.

Well said sir! But what about the “production distros”, SuSE and Red Hat? No news to report on JRE.

But JBoss supremo Marc Fleury was on stage to endorse Sun’s Netbeans platform, which was a bit of a surprise. While we’re talking about Netbeans, it was also interesting to see Cap Gemini CTO Steve Jones formally endorse Sun’s open source development environment. Ed Zander had also endorsed Netbeans, so top down momentum seems to be picking up. But back to Java Linux and questions of governance.

One of the main reasons Java and Linux have been somewhat at arms length outside vendor slide decks, above and beyond the packaging issues talked to at extreme length by my esteemed colleague in the links above, is that Java is not open source. OSS bigots therefore won’t use it. That is why the “will Sun open source Java question” keeps coming up. Sun confirmed yesterday open source Java is a How Not If question. But of course Jonathan said something very very similar last year… please stop ooching it out Sun, I really don’t want to have to answer reporter or client queries on the issue any more. I can’t face another Java One press conference where 60% of the questions are about Sun open sourcing Java.

Which brings us to Eclipse and Java governance.

One reporter asked during the press conference whether Sun shouldn’t spin off Java to an independent organisation, “like Eclipse”. In context of the question the reporter put forward a very interesting oxymoron – “you could then get that level of hands off control..”

“Hands off control?” the mind boggles. military intelligence, fresh frozen, and hands off control…

Without rehashing my Eclipse momentum and enterprise mandate mantra, its worth noting Eclipse increasingly has its own governance issues to deal with. Like the JCP – there are many different constituencies pulling in different directions, as with the Java Community Process.

Independence doesn’t eliminate complexity

Finally i just want to posit that its probably the broad resurgence of Solaris, through the Open Solaris program, that makes Sun so comfortable about partnering with Linux distros now. Solaris is confident. Sun is confident. And now Java Linux can begin to kick in.

The industry hasn’t gotten boring yet, and Sun is at the heart of some intriguing structural changes. The buzz on the floor here at Java One is palpable. And now the Java and Linux communities can start to create some interesting mashups because religion is being taken out of the equation.

More maturity?


  1. As I’ve written on my blog, where’s the revenue for Sun in all this? If Solaris is free, and Java is free, and I can run it all on commodity x86 boxes, at what point does Sun actually generate revenue? I’m sure that being on ubuntu makes open sourcers happy – but where does the money come from?

  2. James (Robertson) yes, you’ve written it on your Weblog. Jonathan Schwartz even linked to you and, several times, tried to explain to all the people still with the same question, why they think you’re wrong.
    Basically, it all comes down to, if you were right, RedHat, Novell and Jboss would be bankrupted. Besides, Sun has been increasing it’s revenue, not diminuishing (I’m not talking about profit) so, there really has to be something wrong with your arguments.
    The way I see it, Opensourcing is a no brainer. Sun really shines when the load needs are great, just think what will happen to all of those exchange intalls if every mail system had to handle more than 1000 messages per second.

  3. James (Robertson),

    Have a listen to Phil Greenspun on IT Conversations. They were giving Ars Digita away, and companies were paying them big bucks just to accept their patches.


  4. Jaime, I read Schwartz’ attempt to “explain” it to me – and it made no sense. As to JBoss – note that they were bought out, and were never profitable. As to Novell, their primary business is not open source stuff. RedHat – they now sell licensed software, for all intents and purposes.

    My issue with Sun’s model is that it’s a throwback to the early days of open source business models – and you probably recall how many companies went broke on those. Sun’s giving away stuff they used to make money on, and is still losing money hand over fist. They will end up being a far, far smaller company when the successor to Schwartz tries to pick the pieces up.

  5. Well, it’s your opinion. I’ve read your “response to Schwartz” (the quotes replace my lacking for a better term) and, the way I see it, It’s you who is wrong but, when each of us has it’s own multi million dolares company, we can compare results.

    I didn’t mention revenue instead of profitability whithout cause, revenue = revenue from sales, profitability has also to do with expenses with R&D and with restructuring costs.

    Your main point to dismiss Schwartz arguments is that Sun (unlike GE electric) doesn’t control the delivery process. Yes, Sun doesn’t control the network but, it’s an important part in it. If you’re going to provide services to all the cell phones in a country are you going to select X86? Right, … On the other hand, if you start a pilot where you’re providing an Unified Message Store for email, Voice messages, SMSs, etc, etc. You may have an hard time to get the funding to start the project with something as reliable as Sun Messaging Server so, you start with something free but, as your business grows what would you prefer, to migrate a few thousand users to a supported product, to simply buy the licencing and have support ot to continue with free and unsupported (or with scalability issues)?

    Sun’s view is for you to start using their products when you aren’t making any money out of it and, when it starts to be a business to you, you pay Sun for support. The way I’m seeing it, it makes sense and, we (a Sun Reseller company) is really increasing our business on that account.

    If you prefer a response with a bit of irony, If you want free, Sun provides, if you want payed and supported, Sun provides, if you want small and quick, Sun provides, if you want massive scalability and reliability, Sun provides, why should you even keep IBM sales number on your cell phone’s address book?

  6. Just as IBM did with Eclipse, and as they are currently doing with AJAX tools, revenue continues to spill in from accessory services.

    To get out of the developer environment to use an analogy, I point to Starbucks coffee. They’re on every corner and an icon as much as a coffee house. But their business is not coffee as you’d expect – it’s real estate. Their business model identifies high-traffic locations and purchases/long-term leases them. By the very virtue of their brand and the traffic it creates, the real estate becomes even more valuable. Eventually, they sell off their holdings and make a huge profit off of the traffic they created. Their coffee is simply a vehicle to their success (and a great opportunity to sell those higher-profit items at the register like bottles of water and branded gum). They need the coffee, but in the long run it’s not a moneymaker (despite their outrageously high prices).

    In the same way, IBM and SUN are using open source tools as a means to provide other services. Every new “standard” technology means a need for new hardware, consulting and support services. They create the “foot traffic” on the corner, and then capitalize on the real estate in the long run, upselling all sorts of products. In my opinion, this is why open sourcing will work, and has worked historically.

    It sure has created a market for plugins, add-ons, and compatability wars – that’s for sure.

    My two cents…

  7. James, I have a few comments over at my blog.

    The question I’m asking is just how relevant is Java on Linux today, and how attractive will it be – hype aside – to a development community already sedimented on successful other platforms and tools.

  8. Great commentary folks.

    I get your point James, but its important to understand that OSS is no longer an optional business model for a major firm in this industry. Even Microsoft has recognised the need to share some source code, and establish new business models for software licensing.

    As someone that has just spent the last few days with no blog service because our host crashed, i tell you we will pay for decent service levels. I don’t want to pay for bits in software, I want to pay to know my systems won’t fall over, and properly packaged together.

    Sun sells AMD servers, and offers better support than Dell. Its in the game there. It also has a ton of very slick hardware on the way… to go with its software. Sun’s systems message, where it could leverage the system, to have better margin control, didn’t work when people said its software isn’t even in the game… but increasingly Sun’s software is in the game. The industry is moving to new business models. Sun needs to respond. What would be better – to be an expensive proprietary closed source shop that can’t amortize development costs over communities and just go quietly down the toilet?

    all that said – this deal doesn’t win Sun direct revenues. But it does help restablish Sun in a game in which it sometimes looked counted out.

    Sun needs to be able to sell to Linux shops – that is where growth is. This kind of initiative helps.

    Jaime – no surprises to see you support the Sun position…

    Jens- nice take on Starbucks. the high value real estate being where devs are?

    Juliao – haven’t had a chance to read your analysis yet.

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