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.”
However, in an interview with eWEEK, Marc Fleury, former CEO of JBoss who made his fortunes in the enterprise Java space, said, “I think that narrowly from the Java, the Internet standard, point of view, this is a good thing. IBM still runs basic physics last I checked and has deep resources in research to throw at any problem it wants. I think this is simply about consolidation of the market and large players using their size to merge in these times, it is a good thing. As a competitor, I simply have no idea. Godspeed to them. Sun was a fun company to train at.” Fleury worked for Sun in France before moving to the United States.
Meanwhile, Snyder, who also works full-time as an engineer at SpringSource, added, “With Sun’s inability to ever truly capitalize on the technology it created in Java and its sinking revenues, a buyout or breakup of Sun seems almost inevitable. That is, unless Sun can truly remake itself and come out swinging. But every time we think that might happen, somehow Sun falters. If IBM does acquire Sun, then that leaves IBM and Oracle as the true heavyweights in the Java industry with more money and influence than nearly all of their competitors. True, there are many other players in the game, but none with the finances and might of these two giants. Make no mistake, both companies are highly invested in Java, which means it will continue, but in what form we have no idea.”
In addition, Snyder said:
“I’d be willing to bet that IBM is not interested in Sun software but in the Sun hardware and storage; and I’m not talking about Sparc. IBM already has everything that is WebSphere and Sun really has little to contribute to that massive family of software. But consider Sun’s recently beefed-up storage division. With the acquisition of StorageTek (which was rumored to have been started using technology from IBM just so that IBM would have a competitor), Sun’s expanding storage strategy and Sun’s shrinking market capitalization, that’s where the discussion gets interesting.”
James Staten, a Forrester Research analyst, wrote a report on the potential IBM-Sun merger, saying that “acquiring Sun would pose a number of integration issues for IBM Software Group. Firstly, IBM aims at executives while Sun aims at executives and beyond with a strong marketing investment towards developers. Secondly, both sides have fundamentally different business models. IBM SWG is not structurally set up to monetize support revenue stream model which they would acquire and very likely would have issues maintaining SLAs [Service Level Agreements] required to maintain it.”
Moreover, of the possible fate of Sun’s software should it be acquired by IBM or another suitor, Staten said:
“Regardless of the who, if Sun is acquired it should come as no surprise to see the winning bidder to shed a lot of the weaker products (and a significant number of redundant staff) in the process. From a software perspective we would expect Java, Solaris, MySQL and Indentity Management Suite to live on with the new company with the possibility of GlassFish, NetBeans, Open ESB and Java CAPS being spun off into open-source projects if they are to continue on.”
Sun’s NetBeans open-source Java development tools platform is a direct competitor to Eclipse, which IBM championed from its inception and still contributes heavily to. Although NetBeans has gained a great deal of new functionality recently and even exceeds Eclipse in some areas, some observers say IBM would do well to merge the best parts of both platforms into one.
Geir Magnusson, a director of the Apache Software Foundation who has been battling with Sun over access to a Java Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK), said: “While I have mixed feelings about IBM buying Sun, I think that if such a thing were to happen, it would probably be good for Java. IBM has been a proponent of open standards in the Java ecosystem, and I expect that will continue. With respect to the Apache-Sun dispute, I’d expect that the problem would simply go away — IBM makes a lot of money from Java from a broad spectrum of products and services. Sun, on the other hand, seems to need to cling to any revenue it can realize around the Java runtime, and that’s really the root cause of the Apache-Sun dispute — Sun’s fear that an independent implementation of Java under a permissive open-source license will harm its Java licensing revenue. Sun’s recalcitrance on this issue is preventing progress and harming Java. I expect that IBM will take the long view, that an open, flourishing ecosystem around Java will be the tide that lifts all boats.”