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Like many of you, I keep an eye on what Sun is doing as a company. I keep an eye on their press releases, official statements, and general product lines. I don't necessarily pay a great deal of attention to the output unless it specifically mentions Java because, as we know, there is more to Sun than just Java.

I've known about their "Mad Hatter" (Linux desktop) project for some time now. It's essentially a collection of open source projects, all designed to work together in one desktop, running initially on Linux. This is Sun's continued play to become a single-stop solutions company. As Scott McNealy remarked at his Sun Network 03-Q3 keynote in San Francisco in September: "We're the IT company, not you."

However, at the Sun Network, Sun announced it was renaming the project the "Java Desktop System." Excuse me? The Java Desktop System? What's that all about? Deep within the bowels of Sun, someone has decided that associating it with Java in a clear concise marketing message will increase the success of this project. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But it's one heck of a gamble.

Leaving aside the fact that the name is misleading since the "Desktop System" has very little to do with Java, I am prompted to ask why not call it the "Star Office Desktop System" or the "Mozilla Desktop System" - or even the "Sun Desktop System"? When you say "Java Desktop System," I instantly think of the ill-fated JavaStation (remember the Java shark fin terminals?). This was a Java desktop. Everything running was Java. The only native app you could run was a Java class file. That's how native it got.

As announced, the Java Desktop System on the other hand is not a pure Java platform. It's not a single JVM controlling the whole desktop. Java is merely the recommended language; Sun is encouraging us to write our apps destined for that desktop in Java. To call it the Java Desktop System is being disingenuous.

I wish Sun lots of success with this, but historically they aren't renowned for succeeding in the software world. Sun ONE didn't rock any boats, Forte didn't shake any trees, and we can only hope that Project Rave is going to come within at least a sniff of all the marketing hype.

The issue is that the Java brand has been hijacked for a project that has very little to do with Java. The press are already writing about how the Java Desktop System is aimed to compete with Microsoft Windows and how well the one integrates with the other.

My fear for the wider Java community of developers is this: If this fails to knock Microsoft out of the desktop space, guess what will be blamed by the critics and the analysts? Not Sun, but Java. Sun is playing a game of Russian roulette with the prize china! Naturally Sun legally owns the Java brand, so you can argue that they can do with it whatever they please. But surely they have a duty of care to the community, a responsibility to it. Yes they own it, but aren't they more a custodian of Java?

If this blows up in Sun's face, it blows up in all our faces. Java is struggling on the desktop as it is and only now are we clawing back with a strong, viable solution that can offer a serious alternative (see Joe Winchester's Viewpoint on page 6). Surely we want to avoid doing anything that is going to set this momentum back.

We in the wider Java community ought not to allow Sun to take risks like this with "our" brand. We have too much invested in Java for Sun to be misusing the Java name without either the Java community or Java having a major play in it.

If the Java Desktop System fails, it won't be because of the Java component. My question is: If this doesn't work out, how will we all be able to convince the corporate world of that?

About The Author
Alan Williamson, when not answering your e-mails and working on the next issue of JDJ, heads up a small team dubbed the "Thunderbirds of the Java industry," providing on- and offsite rescue for Java projects in trouble. For more information visit www.javaSOS.com. You can also read his blog: http://alan.blog-city.com. [email protected]

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