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Dude - Where's My Language?

After Sun reported significant losses, a $1 billion tax charge, and layoffs, many people began to predict a slow death for the company. Several analysts were already writing obituaries for Sun's executive team, while newsgroup pundits were swapping ideas about what they'd do in Scott McNealy's shoes. What Scott actually did was play the "Do or Die" card.

Renationalize the Java Trademark
Java means different things to different people. To most of the readers of JDJ it is the language we all love and cherish. Sun vigorously defended Java's ability to create cross-platform portable code by hauling Microsoft into court for trying to contaminate the language. More recently, they turned their guns on IBM for creating SWT. Protection of the Java trademark was always a concern for its business partners who had to negotiate Sun's restrictive licensing terms (www.sun.com/policies/trademarks). Famously, JBoss was forced to withdraw its J2EE compatibility claims because it hadn't purchased and run the TCK from Sun. By monopolizing the trademark, however, Sun can now do whatever it wants with its crown jewel.

Rename Failing Products
Java's trademark policy is a tricky beast for anyone who has to name a product using it. Few have dared to call their product the "Java XXX", and instead create names such as "XXX for Java technology" or more imaginatively "JXxx". Sun, however, has no such restrictions, and promptly renamed Mad Hatter, Java Desktop; Orion, Java Enterprise Server; and Project Rave, Java Studio. At first there was a flurry of outrage at this in the forums, with most complaints from people who felt the Java brand had been diluted. However, apart from the loss of some of the core principles, such as Write Once, Run Anywhere, most everyone recognized that it made good business sense for Sun to use a successful trademark to promote its product line.

Use Java to Sell Sun's Products
Given the success of the Java brand, why not use this to leverage sales in the renamed Sun product suite? Other companies have profited from Java in the tools and app server space, so surely Sun can reclaim market share by selling its product stack around the Java adjective? If you visit www.java.com, you'll find it contains links to Java Studio, Java Enterprise Server, and Java Desktop; not that many links to WebLogic, WebSphere, Borland, or other JCP participants' products. The java.com site is the one people visit when they click the "Java get it now button" launched at JavaOne to help get Java installed on Microsoft desktops, and endorsed by companies such as Dell, HP, and Gateway. Not sure whether using java.com as a portal to Sun's commercial products is in the spirit of the Java trademark, but what can anyone do about it except look on in envy?

Go for the Kill
The final move: erase the competition. The next step was to make Java System Application Server 8.0 free to download. Giving away the $2,000 app server stole a lot of thunder from free products like JBoss and Geronimo. Free J2EE servers have dented but haven't really hurt IBM or BEA, both of whom have reinvented themselves; however, if the Java Web sites and Java technology supremos draw people with free copies of Sun's app server and other parts of the relaunched product line, perhaps this will change. I leave my closing words to Jonathan Schwartz of Sun quoted at http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104_2-5107201.html: "We are embracing and monetizing Java in ways that we haven't historically." Interesting choice of words from the marketing VP of a company trying to challenge Microsoft. Perhaps the Redmond motto of "Embrace - engulf - extinguish" has become the new mantra in Santa Clara?

Author Bio
Henry Roswell is a veteran consultant who would like to think he's seen it all, but is constantly amazed by new events everyday. [email protected]

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