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Sun: Ubiquity fuels 'Java economy'

At JavaOne, Sun executives promise simpler development tools they hope will help Java move into "unexpected environments."

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sun Microsystems Inc. has a goal of making Java available to the computing masses by providing tools that simplify development. Some developers, however, aren't aboard either because of dissatisfaction with Sun or perhaps out of fear for their futures.


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Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz told JavaOne conference attendees Monday that the future of Java is in the hands of developers and it's up to Sun to give them the tools they need to bring the programming language into new environments.

"Ubiquity yields opportunity," Schwartz said, estimating that the "Java economy" yields about $100 billion annually. He cited the 350 million Java-enabled handsets, 600 million Java cards and 650 million PCs shipped with Java to date, as well as the 100 million downloads of the Java developer kit. "We expect the Java opportunity to grow faster by tapping unexpected environments," he said.

Schwartz conceded that part of that opportunity is in the hands of the 4 million Java developers. To help enable the profusion of Java, Schwartz said, "the technology needs to become more accessible."

John Loiacano, executive vice president of Sun's software group, agreed, adding that "developers want rapid visual design with drag and drop capabilities."

To that end, Sun's latest release of Java technology platform, called Tiger, provides a development environment that is more accessible to the common user.

At least one developer was a bit wary of this improvement. "Sun wants to make Java more accessible to everyone, but I am concerned with where that leaves developers," said Jeremy Snyder, a software developer for Concurrent Technologies Corp., an independent nonprofit applied research and development professional services organization in Johnston, Penn.

Other developers were equally unimpressed by the new release, citing their current overall satisfaction with Java as a reason. "Overall, I have been more productive with Java than any other language," said John Noble, a software development engineer for SomaLogic, a biotech company from Boulder, Colo.

"Sun excels on the Java side at providing online resources; I've never had a problem finding answers to my problems," said Satish Gudibonia, a software developer at Vision Service Plan, a nonprofit vision insurance provider in Rancho Cordova, Calif. Gudibonia is currently porting Visual Basic components to Java because he has "a bias toward Java; it is more open source."

Schwartz also announced that Java 3D would be open sourced.

The subscription model

While the word "opportunity" was used frequently, it was not immediately clear how Sun could actually generate revenue from Java's ubiquity. However, that did not seem to bother Schwartz. He alluded to business models that were thriving because of Java. Two are the "$3.5 billion" ring tone market and the "$3 billion" mobile game market for handhelds.

"I have spoken with a game developer who measured his return on investment in days instead of years," Schwartz said.

Another business model that Schwartz discussed was that of cell phone carriers. "Carriers give away handsets for free … a car company could give away a car for free if they could offer enough additional services," Schwartz said, alluding to the possibility of Sun following a similar path.

The potential for Sun to give away free hardware to ensure some type of continued subscription relationship is not far-fetched at all because they have already done it. In February, Sun gave away AMD Opteron-based servers with subscriptions to Java and Solaris development environments. Schwartz believes some customers will welcome similar subscription services, because "customers want to keep that relationship."

The return of the client

Confident of Java's continued growth, Schwartz believes that computing for clients would drive the industry into the future. "A few years ago, would anyone invest money in a client? No. Because one company dominated the desktop market," Schwartz said. "But desktops are not the only clients anymore, there are phones, cars, appliances -- it's not just about PCs and browsers anymore. We believe there will also be a resurgence of Java on the desktop."

Gudibonia believes that there is no need for a desktop resurgence. "We currently have a need for desktop Java apps." he said.

It is easier to see how the growing client base fits into Sun's Java economy. "A server without a client is a door stop," Schwartz said, referencing Sun's other business efforts.

Sun firmly believes that their Java economy will bear fruit. The strength of Java is its compatibility. "Customers demand compatibility. It provides them with choice and choice is a good thing. Preserving choice and competition leads to innovation," Schwartz said.

Schwartz and Sun may be confident, but at least one of its developers is not, "I am not as convinced of the merits of Sun's plan as they are," Noble said. "And if Sun doesn't survive, what happens to Java?"

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