Maybe IBM wants control of Java

The hot topic of debate today is the breaking news story that IBM is in talks to acquire Sun. Dana Gardner doubts this, and a bunch of myFB and Twitter friends ask the obvious questions in their status updates: Why the heck would IBM want to do this?  

I haven’t seen anyone yet bring up the Java question.  As co-chair of the OSGi EEG and formerly 9-year employee of a Java vendor, I have seen the battles between Sun and IBM over the control of the Java langauge up close.  It has never been a pretty picture.

Recently I was asked about Jonathan Schwartz’s blog entries about Sun’s future direction and corporate strategy. The content of these entries has been subject to the usual praise and criticism, but I haven’t seen anyone talk about what’s so obviously and painfully missing – at least for someone active in the Java community and trying to push the ball forward (e.g. enterprise OSGi). Where is the talk about leading the Java community? Where is the talk about collaboration with IBM, Oracle, Progress, Tibco, and others? Where is the description of how helpful Sun is toward Apache’s Java projects (especially Harmony)?

IBM has ported many products onto the OSGi framework during the past several years, including flagship products such as WebSphere Application Server and Lotus Notes. Never mind the fragmentation in the Java community caused by the disagreement over SCA.  What about Sun’s recent announcement that they were going to reinvent Java modularity in the Open JDK project, all on their own, without input, without regard to what happens to OSGi?  What kind of potential change cost does that represent to IBM and all the other Java vendors who have ported products onto OSGi?

The potential acquisition of Sun has been debated so far mostly in terms of the business value Sun has – that is, in the context of where it is still making money, as if that were the main or only reason for an acquisition. But I say again, what about the unrealized potential for collaborative leadership in the Java community? Sun obviously isn’t paying attention to this, but  IBM might be.

11 responses to “Maybe IBM wants control of Java

  1. Sorry about the one line post…got carried away with the key!
    Anyway, I am sure you are correct in what you say about Java and IBM. What a catch!
    Along with a nice piece of the server market, especially the lower end.

  2. Eric, I can sympathize with your situation as you’re in the part of the community that’s caught in the middle of this senseless battle. For a company that’s supposedly into standards, Sun of late has been more of a refusenik, tending to back go-it-alone technologies under the guise of being the purest implementation of standards: NetBeans, JavaFX, and of late its answer to OSGi.

    Those birds have flown, I’m afraid Sun has been too busy listening to its engineers than listening to the market.

  3. Tony,

    Thanks. Maybe I am just being impulsively optimistic here, hoping for a resolution to this difficult situation. I’m sure there would have to be other reasons for IBM to acquire Sun, as others have said, such as consolidation of the server market, entry into cloud computing, access to customers etc.


  4. Pingback: OnStrategies Perspectives » IBM buying Sun? Why bother?

  5. Eric,

    I work for a Sun Software partner. I feel the battle that you are talking about I really do. Sadly, I can only hope that IBM does not chop up Sun into little bits. If IBM does acquire Sun, I am interested in your opinion on what IBM would do with Sun’s version of Java.

  6. Poet,

    In my experience IBM has a different view of standards, and I would expect them to provide a different style of leadership for the Java community.

    The big mistake I think Sun makes is based on their fear of losing control of Java, and therefore they focus on themselves rather than creating a broader community of participation – and here I mean equal participation of the type you see in an independent consortium or standards body.

    Where you draw the line between standards and products is always a discussion, and I believe this would be a constant discussion with IBM folks. But if you look at SCA for example you can see they understand the benefit of getting their competitors more involved in establishing and progressing a standard.


  7. Very insightful, thank you. Not to rant against Sun, but Sun leadership and business models seem to fail a lot. They have acquired some really good software assets over the years but never where able to fully use the productions as they where in their former glory before being part of Sun. If IBM is able to bring back some of the lost and barely spoken about Sun assets they would be able to even further themselves gaining huge ground over HP. But that brings up Dana Gardner point on why does IBM need to gain that ground since is it already leading the pack? And even the hardcore Linux user are willing to admit how great SPARC is, any idea on why so many people are overlooking SPARC? Do you think that is not a large factor?

  8. I think hardware is not the main issue – the failure of Sun to capitalize on its software acquisitions is much more significant.

    I am not very up on hardware issues right now, but if SPARC is significantly better than PowerPC I suppose IBM would be able to recognize that and position the two correctly. At least that would be my hope.



  9. Pingback: Eric Newcomer’s Blog

  10. Pingback: IBM/Sun Post: I Forgot About Solaris « Eric Newcomer’s Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s