A personal look at Java creator James Gosling's departure from Oracle as JavaOne is underway, and he is not a part of it.
FRANCISCO - Keeping with tradition, I held my annual
interview with Java creator James Gosling to get a sense of his views on the
state of the Java language, platform and community.
no longer working for Oracle, Java's steward since it acquired Sun
Microsystems, Gosling granted the interview and had a lot more to say than I
expected. In fact, he let it all hang out. In a tale about as shameful as it
was predictable, Gosling told how he simply could no longer take working at
Oracle because his input was not given proper consideration, or, in some cases,
any consideration at all.
have been coming to JavaOne
since it began in 1996, a year after Java appeared on the scene. I have not
missed one year and I don't think I have missed a year of interviewing Gosling.
When I brought that up, Gosling joked about this being his first year not at
the show. Again, a predictable outcome, as last year his mood was ominous about
what the future might hold - not so much for Java, but for the Sun culture,
workforce and for himself.
knew Oracle's history of acquisitions. And Oracle played its part to a T. It
used classic takeover strategy. When you take over an entity - a village, some
turf in the -hood, a company or whatnot - first you eliminate or pay off the
chiefs, then you kill off or otherwise isolate the warriors, and you discredit
or humiliate the wise men. Then, as the strategy goes, all the rest of the good
folks will be scared spit-less and toe the line so they can keep their places
in the status quo. For some reason, despite his obvious qualifications, being
something of a hybrid warrior/wise man, Gosling had to go.
created Java, but he was old school. He was part of the Sun that could never
make money on Java. And Oracle was going to show the world just how to make
some serious money on Java. Former Sun CEO, Jonathan Schwartz was forever
talking about how to "monetize" Java, but obviously that didn't happen fast
Oracle acquired Sun, the database giant cited Java as one of the "crown jewels"
of the deal. And the company had its sights on just how it planned to polish
and trade on that gem.
this sounds negative, it is not meant to be; not toward Oracle. I don't
begrudge Oracle its success. Oracle's is perhaps the second-best American
success story of recent times behind Microsoft's - certainly in the tech
industry. And I heartily applaud that. Larry Ellison is a true self-made man, a
magnate in his own right. I truly admire the man and his story. Yet, you name
most any magnate and you'll find some sort of arm twisting, sleight of hand or
heavy lifting along with the hard work, risk taking, guts, smarts and luck that
got them to the top. Bill Gates glommed onto some existing technology and rode
the wave of a monopoly to reach his zenith, Ellison grabbed a hold of some code
he co-wrote for a CIA database system and
parlayed that into a technology behemoth. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil
rode its control of oil refining and marketing to a monopoly causing it to be
broken up, and Andrew Carnegie kept control of his industry-leading steel
empire by occasionally hiring Pinkertons to bust strikes by busting strikers'
heads at his mills. All great American successes.
business means big moves. Oracle moved quickly when IBM
decided to pass on acquiring Sun. And it moved quickly to assimilate the
company and add Sun's hardware and software to its arsenal to take over the
he is to be believed - and I believe him - Gosling's role in that world was to
be more of a presence than a doer. A lot of folks would jump at that
opportunity. Gosling says he couldn't live with that, so he quit.
many people will say he's disgruntled or that it's somehow sour grapes, or
they'll otherwise try to discredit him. But if you use a cell phone, desktop
apps, e-commerce apps or practically any network or computing device you're
likely using Java at least once every day. So unless those folks that discredit
the man are ready to give all those things up, they ought to just save
happen to know Gosling after many years of interviewing him and
interacting with him. He's no kneejerk reactor. As a Carnegie Mellon
University Ph.D. candidate, Gosling wrote a Unix version of Emacs and was
recognized as model citizen in the school's CS program.
son, now a senior in high school, spent six weeks at CMU this past summer
as an Advanced Placement/Early Action student taking college courses for
credit. The program, aimed at bringing in kids the school has targeted as key
prospects, tries to get as many of the kids to commit as possible. And their
secret weapon? James Gosling. In an appeal to the kids, and mostly their
parents, the school's admissions folks listed Nobel laureates, Turing award
winners and more as CMU grads. And a video of other prominent CMU grads
displayed captains of industry, actors such as Ted Danson, Holly Hunter and
Blair Underwood, as well as TV producer Steven Bochco among a host of
other successful alumni. But it wasn't until Gosling spoke of his days at CMU
that parents began to reach for their checkbooks to consider forking over the
$55,000 a year in tuition and room and board it costs to send their kids there
- especially the ones with kids interested in the school's famed engineering
and computer science programs. Why? Gosling was legit, he was sound and he was
don't call him nutty, and don't call him a quitter who couldn't take the heat
because Oracle had other ideas for his creation than he did. However, some
might call him burnt. Possibly, but I don't see it. Not in the enthusiasm in
which he talks about the industry.
just a shame. Buying Sun and relegating the creator of Java to a spokesman's role
is like buying the San Francisco
49ers of the '80s and telling coach Bill Walsh, "We're going to use your West Coast Offense,
but we don't want you having any say about how." Or it would be like buying the
Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and telling Tex Winter, the "perfector" of
basketball's famed Triangle
Offense, to go sit down somewhere and smile while we use your system to win
more championships - Lakers coach (and Jordan's former Bulls coach) Phil
Jackson, who had Winter as his assistant for more than 12 years, still uses the
Triangle Offense today and just won an NBA championship.
guys were and are great minds, but also fierce competitors and they wanted in
on the action. They needed to be in on it, and that's what helped their teams
win. So, too, is Gosling. When he saw he was being relegated to a stage
presence and not an engineer/decision maker with some say in the future
direction of his creation, he had enough.
Kersten, creator of the open source Mylyn project, said, "Companies like IBM,
Microsoft and more recently VMware have been driving fundamental innovation in
how developers create and deploy applications. For innovators like James
Gosling, the right home is often a company with that mix of longer term outlook
and value for the hearts and minds of the developers."
Gosling said, "Oracle is driven by the spreadsheet. And there are things I
admire about that. The problem is when you're doing everything with
spreadsheets and you're trying to do innovation you end up with things you
can't really quantify."
Gosling says he still has no idea what he wants to do next. But he obviously
still has a lot left in his tank. He has the skills, the scars and stories that
would make for a great teacher. My hope is he goes back to CMU or maybe to
Stanford or Berkeley (all schools my son is considering) or somewhere as a
professor and helps shape a new generation of innovators.
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.