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Sun Gets Into the Java App Store Biz

Sun's planning to birth its own "billion user baby" - launching an app store June 1.

Sun Microsystems is the latest company to jump on the app store bandwagon with Project Vector, likely to be renamed Java Store, to launch June 1 at its annual conference, and CEO Jonathan Schwartz is already making bold predictions of 1 billion users.

Schwartz wrote in a blog post that an app store would capitalize on the distribution of Java and JavaFX.

Here's how Schwartz sees it working: "Candidate applications will be submitted via a simple Web site, evaluated by Sun for safety and content, then presented under free or fee terms to the broad Java audience via our update mechanism. Over time, developers will bid for position on our storefront, and the relationships won't be exclusive (as they have been for search).

"As with other app stores, Sun will charge for distribution -- but unlike other app stores, whose audiences are tiny, measured in the millions or tens of millions, ours will have what we estimate to be approximately a billion users. That's clearly a lot of traffic, and will position the Java App Store as having just about the world's largest audience."

The news from Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA), which was acquired by rival Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) in April for $7.4 billion, comes at a time when app stores are in vogue, with everyone from mobile network operators, to software developers to handset makers and even eBay is trying to cash in on the nascent yet lucrative market.

The phenomenon took off after the success of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) App Store for the iPhone, which now has about 35,000 applications and more than a billion downloads.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) answered by opening its own app store in April. Google has one for the mobile open source platform Android and eBay announced plans for one as well.

No love lost

Meanwhile, it's no secret that Apple and Sun haven't bonded over the years, as Java largely remains a pariah in terms of iPhone app development.

An example of the discontent: In January 2007, CEO Steve Jobs told the New York Times that "Java's not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It's this big heavyweight ball and chain."

Indeed, the move by Sun may be a way for the company to try and get some traction in the mobile market. "Sun wants to be a big player in the mobile market, and with the alienation with Apple, this may be their way of trying to do that," Jack Gold, analyst with J. Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com.

He adds that he thinks Sun's entry into the app market will not have much impact on the Java market. "I wonder how serious they are or if it's just for good P.R. It may get them some headlines, and they'll put a stake in the ground, but frankly, I don't think it will generate much revenue for them."

And it could cause headaches. "They've had directories and sites for Java apps forever, but if Sun's going to become the merchant and sell them, how do they police it all and make sure none are malicious? Are they going to test every single one? All of that is part of the equation. Even Apple learned never say never when it comes to issues like that," said Gold.

But differences between Sun and Apple aside, Schwartz is optimistic about Sun's venture into app storefronts. "This creates opportunity for everyone in the developer community -- and specifically, for any developer (even those not using Java/JavaFX) seeking to reach beyond the browser to create a durable relationship with their customers," he wrote.

"Remember, when apps are distributed through the Java Store, they're distributed directly to the desktop -- JavaFX enables developers, businesses and content owners to bypass potentially hostile browsers."

At press time, Apple had not responded to requests to comment.