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Developers Split on Sun, Microsoft Deal

Maybe Scott McNealy and Steve Ballmer had it right; technical collaboration between the two companies isn't such a bad thing. That is unless if you happen to be a developer.

A random survey of online forums and Web blogs catering to Java programmers since last Friday found a wide range of emotions that doesn't leave much to the imagination for Sun Microsystems and Microsoft .

Developer communities were abuzz with the news as soon as the $1.9 billion deal was announced. Reaction from members of the TheServerSide.com, a popular forum devoted to Java programmers, ranged from the humorous to the optimistic.

"We'll see how it turns out in reality, but from the [point of view] of the press releases, it looks very promising. I'll miss Scott's wisecracks about Microsoft though ;-)," wrote Cameron Purdy; while poster Michael Prescott wrote, "I had to check the date on the article three times to make sure this wasn't an April Fool's joke."

When the Sun and Microsoft CEO's exchanged Detroit Red Wings jerseys Friday (they both hail from the same hometown in Michigan) and said "friendship begins on the ice," it's likely some Java and Microsoft enthusiasts were thinking about hockey's other claim to fame -- bare-knuckle slugfests, something that (publicly, anyways) will end because of the agreement signed between the two companies.

The public relations props were the start of a press conference that left many in the software industry shocked. After all, didn't McNealy last year make the comment, "It's mankind versus Microsoft" and.. ".NET is a joke." Well, it seems the jokes on anyone who might have taken the Sun CEO to heart. The companies say the announcement heralds a new era of collaboration between Sun and Microsoft, and had anyone who considers Java or .NET a religious choice is just crying foul.

Most Java developers are like Vinny Carpenter, an architect/developer who lives and breathes Java, J2EE and open source. He views the agreement as an eleventh-hour attempt at staying in business.

"This is a pure and simple play from Sun for cash - Sun just announced 3,000 job cuts and a loss of $800 million this quarter," he told internetnews.com. "Sun has been bleeding cash and everything they have done recently is just a mad grab for cash and this appears to be a last ditch attempt for survival."

He points to the defection of Sun's lead Java advocate, Rich Green, as a sign of the internal strife the agreement will cause within the company and ultimately, within the Java community. Sun officials said Green's departure was part of its planned restructuring. Carpenter said he suspects it's because of Sun's deal with Microsoft.

But overlooked in the fanatical calls for McNealy's resignation or the imminent "death of Sun," is a group of programmers who are glad the two companies are finally ending their almost decade-long snit. For every three Web blogs denouncing the agreement, there was one or two that sounded relieved.

"I'm a very happy camper right now," said Ted Neward, a programmer on both the Microsoft and Java platforms who has written books like "Server Based Java Programming" and co-authored C# In a Nutshell.

Neward told internetnews.com the agreement is a good first step to get Sun back to making good products again, instead of promoting their software at the expense of Microsoft.

"For Scott McNealy to constantly poke shots at Microsoft, it leads you to the question of, 'why are you so interested in bringing them down unless you have nothing else to do?' " he said. "I think this forces Sun to sort of step back and say, 'we need to compete, not on the basis of how many creative ways we can insult the guys at Redmond, but we need to make the Java platform a better one.' That, of course, breeds innovation and competition, and ultimately that's really good for developers."

As far as the role interoperability will play in the arrangement between Sun and Microsoft, the jury's still out. Carpenter said the deal doesn't bring any new or radical new technology to the plate right now, and that Web services covers the technology the two are working together on; Neward said the case for Web services -- a technology he said is itself fractured between Microsoft and IBM implementations -- loses its luster when J2EE and .NET portals interoperate.