Java Developers Leery of IBM-Sun Merger

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-03-24 Print this article Print

Java developers weigh in on the potential IBM-Sun merger, saying they have some concerns about the future of the Java platform should IBM take control of Sun. Although some feel IBM's influence could be good for Java overall, others fear a potentially heavy-handed IBM could smother innovation - particularly in the enterprise Java space. And still others say it just will not matter.

LAS VEGAS -- Java developers weigh in on the potential IBM-Sun merger, saying they have some concerns about the future of the Java platform should IBM take control of Sun.

In a keynote speech at TheServerSide Java Symposium (TSSJS) here on March 19, Rod Johnson, CEO and founder of SpringSource, asked: "What does it mean if IBM buys Sun? From a technology perspective in enterprise Java, it no longer matters." Johnson said you have to look at the longer term forces shaping the Java platform.

Java started out as a simple language and then gained a reputation for complexity, which caused a backlash of revolt from the likes of people such as Johnson and others who fought for lighter-weight solutions such as the Spring Framework, "despite the incumbents kicking and screaming and denying this was a problem -- namely Sun and IBM."

Johnson quipped that "the parents of the old enterprise Java complexity are finally getting married, but it no longer matters. IBM and Sun are no longer critical to innovation in the enterprise Java arena... Java must get lighter. Java must offer a more joined up experience. Java must advance into the new world of the cloud and big developer productivity. If Java does not make a big move to the cloud then Java will become a legacy platform."

Moreover, Johnson said a merge between IBM and Sun will undoubtedly slow down innovation. "And it will give IBM a stronger gun in its battle with competitors like Oracle, because Oracle doesn't have a true open-source strategy."

Ted Neward, founder of Neward & Associates, and a developer who is adept in both Java and .Net, said of the potential merger, "It would certainly bring us down to two major players on the Java side: IBM and Oracle. Sun has historically been relatively mobile being a much smaller company, where IBM has not. There's a concern that IBM likes to create these 'boil the ocean' kinds of solutions, and what Java needs is not more overhead. A lot of it depends on what IBM does with Sun. If they leave the JCP [Java Community Process] alone and let Sun be Sun, that would give Sun the resources to allow Java to better compete with .Net. Because that's their real competition."

Or, Neward said, IBM could simply mire Java and create a split between the open-source community and the rest of the IBM space. However, "if they treat [Java] like they have treated Eclipse it could be good. But IBM could wind up having six different JVM [Java Virtual Machine] implementations. But look at it this way... IBM buying Sun or Sun going bankrupt? I know which choice I want."

Eugene Ciurana, a Java expert, author and director of systems infrastructure at LeapFrog Enterprises, said, "If it happens I think it's a good thing for Sun to get out of the doldrums they've been in for the last several years. There have been a lot of misfires. But I'm not sure IBM is good for Java. Every time IBM has bought a company that was in a leadership position, that company seems to have lost market share. I'm also not too sure about IBM as the leader of the JCP. The JCP has never had the democracy that an open-source community has had, because Sun could always bring down the hammer on any opposition. IBM has an even bigger hammer. IBM will not be able to resist the temptation to start imposing its objectives on the JCP."

Indeed, Sun's handling of the JCP, which oversees the maintenance and future of the Java platform, has been roundly criticized for years for not being a true democracy with Sun as its leader. In fact, SpringSource's Johnson once criticized the JCP for behaving like a "Russian commissar."

Bruce Snyder, an enterprise Java expert and committer to several Apache Software Foundation projects, said, "Although many have lost faith in the JCP, this is one area where a new steward could really breathe new life into Java. Given the standoff between Sun and the ASF, a new approach is definitely needed. Whether IBM has its eye on this I have no idea."

Jeff Genender, also an enterprise Java expert and Apache project committer, said: "I am against the IBM-Sun deal. Although IBM has been an open-source-friendly organization, they have not been the speediest when it comes to keeping their Java technologies up-to-date. Their Java suites -- such as WAS [IBM's WebSphere Application Server] always seem to be the last to get the new stuff, and their JDKs [Java Development Kits] seem to be updated last. My fear is they would hold back innovation in support of their own client needs including making hooks into the JVM to support their own products. As for competition, I think this deal would be bad. Not only do I believe the Java community would be hurt, but the server market would become a bit tighter and that playing field would be altered as well. I do hope the DOJ [U.S. Department of Justice] takes a good look at this."

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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