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Opinion: What if IBM Buys Sun For Real?

What if Sun's software doesn't make it?

When Wall Street Journal writes, they have their reasons. A couple of days ago they wrote that IBM wants to buy Sun Microsystems for $6.5B.

To me, this is sad news. I like Sun and don’t want them to die. Neither do I want to see thousands of Sun’s employees being laid off.  But if IBM will really purchase Sun such consequences are unavoidable.

But if laid off people will be re-hired by other employers, some Sun’s software will die. I mean will cease to exist.

IBM is a huge firm. It makes hardware, software and has an extensive consulting arm. While IBM has been always supporting Java and its derivatives like IDE and J2EE servers, they were always behind. Just look at the delays in implementing latest Java specs in WebSphere. RAD IDE is not as good as Eclipse either.

So what software will die first?

IMO, Glassfish won’t survive.  For years, Sun has been pushing this server that certainly has some modest following, but I doubt that IBM will need this product. They have WebSphere.
NetBeans will bite the bullet too. Again, this IDE has small number of developers who use it (mostly outside of the US), but Netbeans enjoyed an enormous amount of marketing dollars from Sun. Without such food supplements NetBeans would have really tough times staying competitive.  Besides, IBM does not need it to compete neither with RAD IDE nor with Eclipse.

OK, it’s sad that these two products will go, but what worries me the most is the fate of JavaFX, which is not even a toddler yet. IBM may throw this baby with the bath water, and I don’t want this to happen. Even though JavaFX 1.1 is not competitive with its rival Flex and Silverlight just yet, it’s a very potent technology that in a year or two could become an equal player in the RIA space. But today, it needs bret feeding  and it gets it. Continuing leadership of Sun plus outsourcing of JavaFX could bring good results. But I doubt that IBM would be as interested as Sun in success of JavaFX.

Even though JavaFX is not ready yet for enterprise application development, let’s not forget that Java Kernel project saw the light mainly to make JavaFX competitive.  It’s because of JavaFX, the Java’s browser’s plugin doesn’t depend on the browser any longer. Remember that 10 year old law suite between Sun and Microsoft over the fact that Microsoft quietly added some libraries to Java making it dependent on the platform?

Back than, Sun won that battle but lost the war. Sun lost the runtime for Java applets available back then on more than 90% of computers since Internet Explorer was literally the only game in town. Even now, IE holds 75% of the market… and is shipped with ten year old Java 1.1 plugin.

Now, we see the light again – JRE won’t depend on the browser any longer. IMO, JavaFX was the main pusher for this.
But if IBM will swallow Sun, it’s not clear why would they want to overly invest in this language. Sun wasn’t too successful with monetizing of their software, but we as a community, were enjoying working with their products. Oh, well…

We shouldn’t forget about yet another piece of software that Sun’s leaders purchased for $1B. Yes, the chances are they made this decision while being under the influence…As of now, creators of MySQL left Sun.

Anyway, there are 10 million users of MySQL Server.  Sun is thinking of using these legions for smart marketing that will allow selling them other goodies. Sun CEO blogged that even if one percent of MySQL users would decide to purchase others Sun’s products…
IBM certainly needs 10M users. But do they need competition for UDB? I don’t know. Can they quietly kill MySQL? I don’t know.

Am I painting things pitch black for no reason? Do you see any positive developments for the Java community resulting from this $6.5B deal? I see only two - JAVA stockholders will get a better price for their stock and IBM will jump into the cloud.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion (https://java-champions.java.net). He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).

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Most Recent Comments
wernerkeil 03/22/09 12:09:00 PM EDT

You got the point with most of these predictions.

NetBeans may die, unless sold to some competitor (I could see IntelliJ and even Oracle whose JDeveloper is largely based on older Swing technologies than NB as the most likely buyers, but every other commercial brand may be happy if they can afford fostering it)

Glassfish as a brand (or Sun AS product based on it)is likely to die, but some underlying technologies, especially the servers-ide adoption of OSGi in version 3 shall not be underestimated for WebSphere. And if nothing else we may see Glassfish as a basis for WS Community Edition. Not too much in favour of Apache though, but the ongoing fight of Sun and Apache over the future of Java is something, IBM would have to solve.

Shame on you for still using J2EE btw, but I guess you mean its long history with Sun, IBM, BEA, JBoss and other vendors, many now have different owners ?;-)

MySQL may be morphed to a real "DB2 Community Edition" similar to what IBM already offers based on OpenOffice (Symphony I guess) So I would not outrule its fate, although the name we'd have to see what marketing folks believe is best for it...?