As an advocate for Java and Java developers, I've never been a more persuaded or passionate believer in the deep value of the Java platform and philosophy. For me, however, advocating this Java vision neither implies nor requires a pro-Sun outlook in any way. I admire Sun and respect many of the fine people I've met who work there, but in the end Sun is just a company and is obligated to place shareholder wealth ahead of all other interests. I truly wish more Java developers would recognize themselves as equal peers to the corporate players and stop ushering themselves so quickly into different companies' camps. We have our own interests to look out for, and we have no compelling need or motive to pledge allegiance to any company's flag.
The Java developer community, as a group, is a separate, equal, and powerful participant in the global dialog about this critical and firmly established technology. We should stand alone in our own Java developers' camp and insist that every leading company invest much more deeply in us if they hope to maintain our continuing support. They need us at least as much as we need them. Java developers today are far too quickly pigeonholed as pawns for Sun, and we should not be so easily won. Java's tenure as the leading platform for network software development is hardly so fragile that we dare not risk questioning Sun's actions or motives as Java evolves. Indeed, we must. When has it ever been wise to grant blind trust to any corporation for the care of something precious? What dupes we would be if we didn't keep a prudently watchful eye.
The highly polarized "Sun versus Microsoft" equation with "good versus evil" has blinded too many Java developers from seeing the subtle advantages of more vigorous and open competition in the Java economy. It doesn't have to be either Sun or Microsoft in control - this is much too simplistic to constitute an acceptable worldview or a model of a thriving developer economy. None of us should be a mere point on a line somewhere between Sun and Microsoft. Many other companies, organizations, and individuals have excellent vision too, and we should always have our eyes wide open to recognize the most worthy of them whenever they appear. Technology moves quickly, and ours is a shifting landscape in which the leaders can't rest on their laurels for long.
I still want Java to be truly portable, reliable, open, standard, bugfree, and high-performance. It baffles me that so many independent, intelligent developers regard Sun exclusively as the great champion in the realization of this vision. Literally hundreds of companies and thousands of individual developers have generously contributed their hard work and energy to make Java the awesome platform it is today; in the end, however, Sun almost always gets the credit. People who know Sun's history better than I do tell me that its long-term track record as a software leader is not very impressive. They say that Sun's emphasis and strength has always been in the hardware business, and that its software initiatives have often missed the mark.
In fact, if Sun had allowed Java to be more genuinely open from the beginning, we would now have much broader support for competitive virtual machines, development tools, and market-driven innovation. Even during the unprecedented Internet heyday of these past few years, the third-party marketplace for Java developer tools has been an anemic shadow of what it could and should be. In our capitalist system it's expectation of profits that drives valuable innovation, and apparently the incentives in the Java developer tools market have not been sufficient to entice and sustain healthy business competition. This is a tough problem that we, the Java developers, should focus on and seek to cure.
So I hope more Java advocates will separate themselves from the "Java equals Sun" mentality and start challenging Sun and every other company that wants Java developer support to prove its ongoing value. A vast number of brilliant minds have contributed to the shaping of the Java platform and the vision we support, and the majority neither work for Sun nor have any reason to see Sun's shareholder interests placed ahead of anyone else's.
Sun, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, HP, and the rest should be given a wake-up call to treat the members of the developer community as genuine partners or inevitably face losing our support to those who will. Sun has no more permanent claim to our affection and loyalty than any of the rest. I'm here to stand only for Java and Java developers, so I feel that any company that wants our continuing support should have a very good answer to the question, "What have you done for us lately?"
Comments on Microsoft Settlement
It's obvious that this settlement in no way represents "peace" between Sun and Microsoft. On the contrary, I expect to see renewed hostility on a much larger scale as these companies and others battle for strategic position in the huge emerging "Web services" market built with technologies such as UDDI, SOAP, and XML. It's also clear that Microsoft still doesn't get it. Their ridiculous attempt to position the "JUMP to .NET" vaporware as help for Java developers exemplifies their arrogant disinterest in our real priorities and concerns. It would be so much more productive for Microsoft to invest in building technology tools that will be genuinely attractive to Java developers rather than cajoling us with such pathetic PR manipulations. Who do they think they're fooling?
Rick Ross is founder of the JavaLobby (www.javalobby.org) and president of UserMagnet, Inc. (www.usermagnet.com). UserMagnet leverages its expertise in Java, XML, and Web services to deliver advanced e-loyalty solutions.