Adjusting to a New Culture

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-06-19

Gosling: There Is Life for Java After Oracle-Sun Buyout

Q: What's your sense about the future of Java now that Sun is moving into a new era?

A: It's pretty much impossible to say. Assuming the deal closes, it's now up to Oracle and Ellison [Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle] and that whole crowd. I know pretty much as much as you do.

Q: Any indication from them what they expect from you?

A: No.

Q: Life as is? Or something else?

A: There's no data. Larry in his public statements has been unbelievably supportive. But until the deal closes, the two companies have very limited communication. It's really funny, we have less communication now. We're in this sort of quiet period where we can do data dumps to them so they can do some planning, but it's fairly strictly one way. We are two companies operating independently. At some point there'll be a magic instant where that changes, but ...

Q: Did you have a preference [in terms of suitors], IBM versus Oracle?

A: If it were between those two, I would certainly prefer Oracle. I used to work for IBM.

Q: What's the sentiment in the engineering ranks at Sun? Is it a sense of relief, excitement or what?

A: It's kind of all of the above. You can find people who feel one way or the other. It's certainly been a pretty turbulent few years. We felt like we were on a pretty good recovery vector until March of a year ago, when all the banks just went quiet. That kicked the guts out of just about everybody.

Q: I could imagine. But Oracle has a certain reputation, at least from the business side. And it doesn't seem to have the same culture as Sun. Do you think that that will change?

A: It's hard to know. The cultures are different. They kind of are what they are. I'd like to think there's some chance that we can make a difference, but it's pretty much unknowable.

Q: Well, the main sentiment that I was hoping to get and what I feel like I am getting is that you're hopeful.

Adjusting to a New Culture

A: Yeah, I'm hopeful. I mean it's certainly plausible. It would certainly be interesting being a part of a software company. And they're deep in all the technologies that we do. So they clearly care about this stuff. I could see it going all kinds of different ways.

Q: But their history as a citizen of the Java ecosystem, how would you grade them?

A: Colorfully.

Q: Well, that comes back to the culture of Sun. You guys are known for being pretty laid back, but even through that you remained sticklers about compatibility.

A: Yeah, well, we're pretty laid back but we're not into anarchy. It's kindergarten 101. If you let a bunch of kids out on the playground, it gets pretty ugly pretty fast, unless you've got a teacher out there looking out. So it's not like the teacher on the kindergarten field is being a tyrant imposing their will-which unfortunately sometimes they do. But properly done, what they do there is they stop bullies from being bullies. And if you're going to give a bunch of kindergarten kids the freedom to play and have a great time, you've got to have a little bit of structure so that the bad patterns don't evolve.

Q: Do you feel like this is like the end of an era? Or the beginning of a new one?

A: Well, it's both. Assuming the deal closes, Sun Microsystems as we know it is no more. With a new owner it's hard to know. It could go any old way. No data.

Q: So is there any sadness? Because yesterday when Scott [McNealy, chairman of Sun] was on stage it was kind of emotional.

A: He had a hard time holding it together. Everybody cried. One of the things that we work really hard on at Sun is it's really hard to have a good customer relationship with somebody who hates you. And the fact that that whole audience leapt to its feet was pretty incredible.

Q: It's definitely the end of an era for me because I've really enjoyed covering Sun.

A: Well, Sun is now a viral body in a strange host. So we'll see.

Q: Do you think you'll be here?

A: I have no way to predict that.

Q: Well, there are things you will and won't put up with.

A: Absolutely. So I can imagine future histories where I'm gone. And I can imagine future histories where I'm not. Right now, no data.

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