Clouds Cast Over Sun on Eve of JavaOne

The annual JavaOne conference is about to get under way this week in San Francisco, but with more than the usual local fog hanging over it.

This year's JavaOne represents a changing of the guard for Sun Microsystems, longtime conference sponsor and steward of the Java platform, which is set to be acquired by Oracle. That leaves the fate of this cornerstone conference, not to mention Sun's own product catalog, very much up in the air at a time when the company typically asserts its leadership role in the Java community.

"With the Oracle acquisition hovering over all of this, it's challenging for Sun to really have a very long-term strategy around any product," said IDC analyst Al Hilwa. "So don't expect Sun's people to make any major promises at the conference. Even if they do, you should probably take it with a grain of salt. Everything they announce will be in the shadow of the question, 'What will Oracle do when it takes over?'"

That question could be applied to JavaOne itself. In fact, two questions about the fate of the venerable conference were buzzing around the CommunityOne West open source software event, under way today in conjunction with JavaOne: Is this the last JavaOne? And will it be folded into Oracle OpenWorld?

OpenWorld, Oracle's annual conference, is already operating at capacity, Hilwa pointed out. Last year, the event drew an estimated 40,000 attendees. JavaOne is expected to draw approximately 15,000 attendees this year. "I'm only speculating here, but my guess is that they will hold on to JavaOne," he said. "I think they'll want to leverage that opportunity, and maybe fold some of their middleware into it to spread out attendance. But between the two shows, they'll reach many more people."

Since the first JavaOne conference was held in 1996, the developer-focused trade show has become an annual must-attend event for Java jocks around the world, and an essential product showcase for Sun and its partners. So it's no surprise that conjecture about the fate of the company, the show and Java itself would color the conference.

"This really is one of the most significant acquisitions in our industry, ever," said Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg. "Because it's the first time a software company has bought a major hardware company. We've never seen this. We've seen hardware companies moving into software in bigger and bigger ways -- companies like IBM, Hitachi, Fujitsu and even Sun. But you don't see it going the other way. This is major."

But don't expect to hear any on-the-record speculation from Sun execs at the show, Feinberg said. "I think a lot of people are going to JavaOne expecting Sun to talk about the acquisition," Feinberg said. "But they're not going to. They can't, because of regulatory prohibitions."

To those who are concerned about the fate of Java under Oracle's stewardship, Hilwa is advising them not be overly worried but to be keep their eyes open, nonetheless.

"Oracle sees itself as a leader in the Java space," Hilwa said. "The company has built its entire architecture around it. It matters to them a lot how Java evolves. And they're going to have to resist the temptation to control it. I think the Java community is going to be on watch for that. And my sense is that Oracle will go overboard to show that they will not do that. And they've got a good track record. When they acquired PeopleSoft and Siebel, there was a lot of anxiety among customers. But Oracle moved very dexterously, and it's a real testament to their management. And I think they'll do the same thing with the Java community."

Adding to the awkwardness, if not irony, of this year's JavaOne conference is the inclusion on the keynote roster of Dan'l Lewin, Microsoft's vice president of strategic and emerging business development, and Steve Martin, Redmond's senior director of developer platform product management. Both will be the first-ever Microsoft representatives to keynote the JavaOne event.

At press time, conference organizers would not confirm whether any Oracle execs would be speaking at the show, though Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz did mention in a recent blog posting that "a special guest or two" may attend.

"I'm guessing they won't be from Oracle," Hilwa said. "Everything is up in the air right now. That's just the nature of acquisitions. Sometimes people don't quite understand that. They hear the announcement of a deal and they think that the two companies are already getting together and making plans. But they can't actually talk to each other, because it's not a done deal yet."

That said, this year's JavaOne will be an important gathering of Java developers, he said. "Attendees come to this conference to learn, get up to speed on things happening in the Java ecosystem, meet vendors and spend some face time with their peers," Hilwa said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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