Java crippled by Sun's open-source paranoia

Calling XML a technology bothers me. XML isn't much more than one of those hobbyist Dyno label makers you use to dial up the letters and punch a name into a plastic strip. Now Java -- that's a technology.

Recently InfoWorld Test Centre editors and analysts chose the top 10 technologies with the most significant impact on business in the year 2000.

I respect their choices and in many cases agree. But naming XML the most significant technology isn't one of them (see Awards underscore how IT affects business). I'm not arguing that XML hasn't had a big impact on business, but I don't think it should have been number one.

Calling XML a technology bothers me. XML isn't much more than one of those hobbyist Dyno label makers you use to dial up the letters and punch a name into a plastic strip. Yes, I know it's not the XML label but the XML standard that matters. And even I admit that as a standard, it's been one heck of a boon to business. But I'd bet the only reason anyone refers to XML as a technology is because Microsoft has promoted it as a replacement for Java. I assume Microsoft hopes that by the time people notice that XML to Java is such a crackbrained comparison, Microsoft will have shoved Java out of the picture and replaced it with its C# language. Good luck, Microsoft.

Now Java -- that's a technology. It's a language, and it's a platform. It's two technologies in one. The problem with the Java technology is that Sun Microsystems has repeatedly fumbled in its strategic handling of Java as a platform. It's even now doing so in the open-source world. But Sun doesn't know how to embrace the open-source community, and as Linux quickly penetrates the server market, Java is hurting.

I suspect a fierce internal struggle is happening at Sun in this regard, and it all starts with the problem of Solaris v Linux. How can a company so proud of its regal Solaris OS consider replacing it with something as uncouth as Linux? I'm certain companies such as Hewlett-Packard and SGI have the same inner conflicts. I bet Bruce Perens, who now works for HP, spends more time selling Linux to HP employees than to HP customers. In fact the only major company with its own Unix system that doesn't seem to have a problem adjusting to Linux is IBM.

From a technical perspective, Solaris, Irix and HP-UX are superior to Linux and the BSD family. Months ago you may have won the argument. But this item from a recent news story from InfoWorld in the US should serve as a warning to Sun: "In December, Telia, Scandinavia's largest telecommunications company and ISP, installed a Linux-based IBM G6 mainframe to replace 35 Sun-based servers used largely to run its billing system."

So what can Sun do? I'll repeat my advice that Sun should license Java under the GNU GPL as a multiple licensing arrangement. More important, make a big public relations splash about how Sun will donate engineering resources to harmonise Linux threading with Java threads by contributing whatever is necessary to the Linux kernel source.

Next, get Scott McNealy in front of a microphone to say, "Are you kidding? We at Sun love Linux. We adore it. We're using it on our Cobalt servers and it's doing a great job. Although Solaris serves our high-end customers better today, we're busy planning for the day when we can support Linux and Solaris side-by-side on our toughest hardware."

Sun can be a hero to the open-source community or it can be a threat. So far Sun has taken a baby step with Open Office, but it needs to take drastic action if it wants to remain a big technology player in a decade or two.

Petreley is the founding editor of LinuxWorld. Send email to Nicholas Petreley.

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