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
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.