Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sun gets behind clouds, may be Eclipsed - thoughts from an ex-employee

I've been ruminating about Sun today, given a series of seemingly unrelated blogs and news items.

First of all, Closer To The Ideal commented how Sun hasn't seemed to be make any headway with Java FX in the last two years.  Tell me about it.

I remember when Rich Green did the Big Splash announcement for Java FX at Java One two years ago - I just groaned.  It was basically an "if you announce it they will come" strategy as far as I could tell - there was no there there.  The technology for the most part had not been built.  It was an announcement of an unrealized vision, not an actual working product.  And meanwhile there were not one but two competing solutions - Flex and Silverlight - from two of the best consumer software companies in the business.  Things did not look good - and still don't.

What made this whole Java FX thing really grating to me was that we as a company had to pull out all stops to get this thing to actually happen, since our VP of all software had put his reputation on the line by announcing it.  They pulled the best and the brightest from the NetBeans and Java Swing teams to work on Java FX.  They pulled our UI design resources.  They pulled our QA resources. And the now NetBeans was working on life support, and JavaFX struggled along, and continues to struggle along.  

The other announcement - Sun is going to provide a cloud offering.  OK, so let's remember Way Back to about five years ago, Jonathan was announcing this grand vision of selling CPU for $1 a CPU-minute.  This was the beginning of Sun's Grid effort.  This project ground along for year after year, having (IMHO) completely the wrong focus - focusing on HPC and batch-oriented processing instead of making it easy to host my application on their infrastructure.  Meanwhile Amazon takes the world by storm.  Sigh...

So now Sun finally announces a move into the real cloud, one that people care about.  But at this point they are way behind their competitors.  What makes them different from Amazon, or IBM, or HP?  Oh, I see, it's "REST-based" and it is with an open license.  Ho-hum...

I really like Sun, and liked working for them.  They have some great technology (Solaris, Java, ZFS, DTrace, Thumper, Glassfish, NetBeans), they have contributed enormously to the community, and are one of the most ethical and respectful companies I have worked for. 

But Sun has had this amazing ability to thrash for a very long time on large and ultimately doomed projects (remember N1?), and they just haven't been able to turn the corner and really reinvent themselves.  I think many of us have been rooting for them for a long time. But I'm losing faith.   No it's not that I'm bitter.  I just have been around the block a few too many times with new strategies and not seeing any of them really get any traction.  The recession has not helped - but hey, IBM is doing just fine, thank you, so somebody out there knows how to run a business.

Ah, IBM.   When I heard that IBM may be buying Sun - now that was interesting.  And it reminded me I had better start learning Eclipse... 


Anonymous said...

JavaFX hasn't taken off, but neither has Silverlight which been in public development for a year longer and has far more money, resources, and promotion behind it. HTML media extensions have been moving slowly as well too and how many years have I been hearing about those? Also, the JavaFX team always expected it to start as a niche product with early adopter programmer types. Flash dominates and deservedly so, but there's really unexplored room for competition.

I agree with you on the success of Amazon EC2, but that's pretty obvious today.

Dan said...

I'm in a similar situation, though I've never worked for Sun but Java was the first language I really used (now a C# developer) still have a soft spot for them. From Microsoft developer land Silverlight is huge (the power of marketing), and JavaFX I couldn't even find the runtime properly. Does it require the JVM already installed? ah hell Silverlight is easier, even if it only works on Windows. Having said that Silverlight is dissapointing even version 3 (Microphone and WebCam support). Sun should be pushing their hardware with support for the open source EC2 implementation, let people run their own cloud that's compatible with Amazons on their own (Sun) hardware. Package it make it really simple Buy server, put in rack, use management tool. They own MySQL they should also look at doing what Microsoft have overlaying SQL on SSDS. REST based cloud api? maybe Azure is the MS answer and it looks okish.

Anonymous said...

"The recession has not helped - but hey, IBM is doing just fine, thank you, so somebody out there knows how to run a business."

One thing they're making money off is their RCP. I wonder how many Sun executives know what those letters stand for, even though Sun has its own RCP... on Swing, which is far more widely spread than SWT. Oh, wait. In Sun's vision, Swing is legacy. All must bow to JavaFX now.

Unknown said...


Sun would have done better in investing time and money in a good GUI builder. Using Swing it is already possible to develop nice looking business solutions (may it be browser centric or rich-client).

Nobody seriously will ever be programming commercial games with Java. There is no good tool chain. (In the M$ world there is Cinema 4D, DirectX and such.) So what use is all this clicky colorful flashy for?