Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Open source Java and a classic strategic blunder

Sun, a company with 3.98 extremities in the grave, finally makes an interesting move. They claim they'll open up Java, giving away one of their gems (Java is still important on servers).
Chief Says Sun Plans to Offer Open-Source Version of Java - New York Times

One of his first appearances since taking the helm of the struggling company three weeks ago, the executive, Jonathan Schwartz, told a gathering of software developers here that Sun viewed open-source software as a major part of its turnaround strategy...
It's unlikely to save Sun, but at least a part of their legacy might live on. Sun is following the path of the 1970s computer hardware companies that once ringed the twin cities -- shrinking and becoming a "services" company.

The story reminds me of one of the great strategic blunders of the 1990s. Netscape and Sun fought bitterly over who'd deliver "thicker client" capabilities to the browser. Netscape had an Ajax-like vision of JavaScript (no relation to Java) and enhanced markup with session management (not sure whether they had the asynchronous model though). Sun wanted everything, including the browser to run in a Java Runtime Engine. Actually, they wanted the browser to go away.

Meanwhile Microsoft, in one of Gates' most brilliant and ruthless moves, blew away all of its old software strategy and embraced, extended, and corrupted both the browser and Java. Gates is an evil force for computer geeks like me, but there's no denying his strategic brilliance. Nobody could shoot their own horse like Gates in his prime.

Sun destroyed Java on the Windows desktop with an unending series of tiny updates -- each of which destroyed a generation of installed software. Sometimes there were unmarked incompatible versions!

Sun delivered a second fatal shot when instead of building a cache solution for applets they persisted in a ridiculous vision of ubiquitous high speed computing. Applets should always be instantly available. Oh, and forget version control.

In the meantime, Microsoft sprinted while Netscape and Sun fought like psychotic wolverines.

Sun and Netscape destroyed one another. A classic lesson in strategic incompetence. Bottom line -- never forget that the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend'. It's better to take half of a trillion dollar market than nothing at all ...

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