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Analysts Differ on Sun's Branding Campaign

Sun Microsystems continued to hammer out its software evolution strategy at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco Wednesday, unveiling, among other advancements, support for its Java RunTime Environment by stalwarts HP and Dell, and the creation of java.net, a new community Web site created to spur Java collaboration.

The news was released at the Santa Clara, Calif. vendor's annual JavaOne developer's conference. According to some industry watchers, the conference comes at an crucial time in the company's bid to be a major player in the crowded market for Web services. Sun has come under fire in the last year by some analysts who claim the company's grip on Web services was slippery at best, and that the firm did not properly articulate its plans to create Java Web services.

Analysts such as ZapThink's Jason Bloomberg, argued that Microsoft and IBM are widening the gap almost daily between themselves and Sun on this frontier. For that reason, experts have said the company must use its annual developer's conference, JavaOne, to simultaneously wow and educate the industry on its progress of molding Java applications to current Web services practices. In addition to Web services, Sun contends that it sees the most potential for Java in the wireless and mobile gadget fronts, and plans to attack that market.

Despite Sun's efforts to launch a massive "Java-Powered" branding campaign, ZapThink's Bloomberg remains skeptical, if not confused by the company's message. Likening Sun's campaign to Intel's "Intel Inside" campaign, he wondered just "how much of the money paid for a 'Java Inside' mobile phone will go to Sun? The answer isn't clear."

"The quandary Sun is in is that they don't know just how open or proprietary Java should be," Bloomberg told internetnews.com. "Make it too open, and not a penny of the 'Java Inside' devices will go to Sun, but make it too proprietary, and no one will want to use it. This quandary is most apparent in Sun's approach to Web Services which the company calls "Java Web Services." So, which is it, Sun? Are these really Web Services -- that is, open standards-based interfaces to software written in any language running on any platform, or are they language and platform specific?

Bloomberg said the contradiction came through "loud and clear" when Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Sun's software group, dismissed the Eclipse open source initiative as being "about binding your applications to an operating system."

Bloomberg said "Sun would rather see software bound to the Java Virtual Machine instead. But how can binding applications to the JVM be an improvement over binding apps to an OS, if the JVM is proprietary? And how will Sun make money off the Java branding initiative if it's not?"

Sun did not respond to calls seeking comment as of press time, but Redmonk Senior Analyst Stephen O'Grady came to the company's defense somewhat. He doesn't agree Sun is being as shifty as Bloomberg says they are, but agrees the campaign won't be an immediate success.

"As for Sun being conflicted about whether or not Java is open, given the progression of the JCP away from Sun dominated to industry standard, I'm not really sure what that's based on," O'Grady told internetnews.com. "If anything, Sun is more or less a zealot for keeping Java open. In a conversation with Jonathan [Schwartz] yesterday I brought up the question of Sun monetizing Java, and his response was that it was a multi-billion dollar business for Sun through identity servers, app dev tools, etc. I understand and to somewhat agree with the assertion that Sun has not capitalized on their investment to the extent that other vendors might have, but to extrapolate that into saying they're unclear about the openness of Java to me is a reach."

O'Grady also pointed to the deluge of announcements Sun has made about its progress with Java this week, as evidence that it grasps the significance and importance of the ecosystem/network of Java supporters. He cited Sun's new partnership with Dell and HP, and said Sun is marshalling resources across the board to ensure a role for Java in everything from high-end servers to network-aware toasters.

"Whether or not that campaign is ultimately successful depends entirely on Sun's ability to execute," O'Grady said, noting that Redmonk is definitely not ready to count them out.

But Bloomberg, whose firm specializes in analyzing and consulting clients on XML and Web services strategies, sees a different problem. His issues are with Sun's use of the "Java Web Services" moniker, noting that Web Services by themselves are little more than standards-based interfaces to software functionality.

"However, when Sun talks about Web Services it's always about "Java Web Services," as though if you wanted a Web Service, you should go out and get yourself some Java to build it with. Of course, with Sun, if you want a widget (fill in any kind of IT thing you might want), then you should go out and get yourself some Java to build it with. Well, that's fine for many things, but the point of Web Services is that it doesn't matter which language or platform you use. If you don't believe that, then you don't get what Web Services are all about."

However, Bloomberg explored the flipside to that coin: if you already have Java, then customers are in good shape.

"Now, if you already have Java, then Java is a great language (and J2EE is a great platform) to build Web Services with. After all, if it doesn't matter which technology you pick, go with the one that makes sense for you," Bloomberg said. "And sure, if you want to build Web Services, then you should get great Web Services tools -- like Visual Studio, or WebLogic Workshop, or whatever. If all Sun was simply saying was that their software was great for building and running Web Services, that would be one thing (we might not agree with them, but at least it would be a logical thing to say). But to say that if you want to build Web Services, you should go out and get Java, just doesn't make sense at a fundamental level."