McNealy Takes Java on the Offensive

SAN FRANCISCO — Never let it be said that Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy holds back his feelings. The 48-year-old leader of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based networking computer maker said he is tired of getting beat up in the marketplace by critics of the Java programming language.

“We spent 8 years developing and defending our brand and now we are going to go on the offensive to protect it,” McNealy said.

This week at the company sponsored JavaOne software conference, Sun is establishing Java as a unified brand as well as a few initiatives to build its developer’s base from 3 million to 10 million.

In addition to spending $500 million on brand advertising and extending the development process to non-expert Java coders through its new Project Rave concept, Sun also inked a deal with Intel as well as the major cell phone makers to certify compliance with the J2ME with support for the Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) 2.0 specification . The company also launched its Java Verified Program shoring up some 150 different vendors’ products.

“Consumers more and more will demand Java based mobile devices like phones and PDAs essentially ending the consumer era of software sold separately,” McNealy said. This is especially important for the gaming industry. Those guys get really mean when they can’t play their Java-enabled games.”

But, McNealy said what most proves Java’s market power was word this week that both Hewlett-Packard and Dell would be shipping their PCs and laptops with the Java Runtime Environment preinstalled. Microsoft plans on extracting Java from the Windows operating system has refused to carry the latest versions of the Java Virtual Machines.

“A lot of people think the only way you can win is by everybody else losing. Our belief is you don’t make money owning the language. You make money doing things in the language. The more people using Java, the bigger the total available market we have.”

Sun managed to even eke out a customer win this week. The company announced Friday its midrange and high-end servers are powering a digital programming repository for 15 HBO and Cinemax networks. The deal is significant considering Sun has lost out contracts to Pixar as well as financial plays E*Trade, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse First Boston.

While not directly involved, Sun stands in an interesting position in relation to two other major events this week: Oracle’s hostile takeover plans for PeopleSoft and SCO Group’s deadline to pull its UNIX licensing and sue IBM .

McNealy said Oracle remains its closest outside partner and seemed amused at CEO Larry Ellison’s plans.

“Any time Oracle has new functionality, we will be the first to be compatible with it. Currently, we are competing for PeopleSoft’s love with IBM. The bigger Larry’s portfolio, the better it is for us.”

As for who owns the license to the UNIX code, McNealy said the outcome would have “zero” impact for Sun and its licensees based on an early deal the company did with Novell.

“We got a unique IP relationship in terms of free and clean access to do what we want. From an uncertainty perspective, it only makes more sense to stay with what is certain,” McNealy said referring to Solaris. “[The developers at the conference] will tell you that open standards is better than open source and that both are better than proprietary.”

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