Suns push into software development under Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz has been met with varying degrees of suspicion by analysts, the trade press and, of course, competitors. In a nutshell, the critics fall into two main buckets: those who deride Sun as a hardware vendor with no software skills and those who dont think anyone will displace Microsoft.
But as Sun methodically attacks Microsoft with price, interoperability and the strengths of the open-source world, customers (mostly overseas so far) are stepping up to the counter. As Sun rolls out each part of its strategy, its becoming harder and harder to tar Sun with the usual brushes.
Take Project Rave, soon to ship as Java Studio Creator—a technology preview for early developer access. Designed to feel like a pair of comfortable shoes for Visual Basic developers, the IDE builds on what Sun calls "100 percent Java Standards"—Java Server Faces and JDBC RowSets. This is distinctly different from BEAs WebLogic Workshop, which Sun insists (and BEA doesnt argue) relies on proprietary extensions that run only on WebLogic Server.
The target audience is 10 million developers cut adrift by Microsofts move toward an object-oriented version of Visual Basic in .Net. The idea is to make it easier to move to a familiar tool in Java than to make the leap to C#, albeit with Visual Studios common user interface. Business analysts and Web designers, who would gain more productivity by focusing on their core constituencies in business logic and interface design, are also welcome to come along for the ride.
Here the strategy dovetails with the rest of Suns system stack. JDS (Java Desktop System) delivers most of the Office feature set at a dramatically lower price. In addition, JES (Java Enterprise System) mirrors Microsofts bundling of app server, directory and middleware with the operating system—with a dramatic licensing strategy that obliterates the distinction between internal and external users.
JES serves as the foundation for Scott McNealys pitch to vertical customers: Sun will build, test and certify a specific reference implementation—no charge—and you can be up and running in days, not months. You can start on x86 with Linux or Solaris and move to Solaris on SPARC when the going gets tough.
Suns high-end sales are holding up, but so far theres not a lot of evidence from research firms IDC and Gartner that customers are buying Suns Linux hardware. Ironically, its JDS that may do most of the heavy lifting.
Even though the China deal is more likely to flirt with a million users rather than the billion that Sun predicted, a Sun win in the United Kingdom and Windows losses to Linux in Spain, Brazil and Germany are the real thing. And a rising tide is floating all boats—except Microsofts.
Nat Friedman, creator of Ximian, Novells Linux-based Evolution Outlook clone, put it this way in his blog: "Suns recent [JDS deployment] announcements are awe-inspiring. This is one of the interesting things about open source: A win for our shared platform is a win for all of us. It will take multiple vendors pushing hard on the Linux desktop to get the ISV snowball effect."
JDS adoption helps Suns systems pitch, but, more important, it provides incentive for developers to switch to Rave. Whats more, Rave is a cross-platform development tool, deployable on any desktop including Windows. Once an application is authored, it can be deployed wherever the market mandates it. Because of this, Rave stands a good chance of becoming the Linux development tool, avoiding Kylixs fate of being tied to the shrinking Pascal base.
As more applications emerge to run on the Linux desktop, the application barrier to Linux adoption will decline. In turn, desktop sales will accelerate in enterprise scenarios, rationalizing IT investments in the common infrastructure of Java across the desktop, application and server domains. Its a virtuous circle that borrows heavily from the Microsoft playbook. Thats why developers may take Suns strategy very seriously this time.
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Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. His e-mail address is email@example.com.