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Strategy Letter V: Sun not dumb

Joel,

Sun's support for Java WORA is not so surprising when you realize that they have retained sole rights to manufacture native Java hardware.

It is my understanding that, while anybody can make a Java Virtual Machine, only Sun can legally make a Java Machine.  That is, a processor that runs Java bytecode natively.

Since a VM will always be slower than a M, Sun will always have a proprietary advantage in the Java world.  This becomes particularly important in the small embedded space.  For example, if I want to make a cell phone with J2ME and I want to make it as cheaply as possible, then I'm going to be very inclined to simply buy Java-on-a-chip rather than port a JVM to some other processor.  Sun wins big in that scenario.

William Frantz
Thursday, June 20, 2002

An excellent essay!  I'm reminded of the quote in "Patton" where the general says the opject is not to die for your country but to make the other fella die for his.   

The popularity of Linux with applications software providers stems from the fact that their competitive differentiation and advantage is not in the operating system but in their applications.  Applications providers are shielded from the infectious nature of the GPL by the LGPL that applies within the user process.  Kernel modifications and modifications to the tool chains must be released on demand according to the Gnu Public License.  Applications are under no such obligation unless they modify the public libraries that they use.  Anything that they would prefer to keep propriatary can be put into a private library.

Oracle is happy to run on Linux systems but they are not about to abandon the copyrights to their databases.  Credis Suisse/First Boston (CSFB) can adopt Linux as their application platform without exposing their risk management software or financial applications to public disclosure.  These middleware providers are comfortable with Linux because their proprietary code rests comfortably in user processes where it cannot be affected by the GPL. 

It is as if the Open Source movement were a pot luck dinner where everyone is welcome to eat but you only need to contribute a dish if you feel like it.  We have the spectacle of some of the biggest fat cats in the software business feeding from the common Open Source pot so long as they can keep their crown jewls safely locked up with proprietary licenses.  In this sense Linux and Open Source products are indeed free as in beer.

So it is easy to see who can profit from Open Source, those who as Joel points out, provide complementary products.    IBM and Intel and Motorola can subsitize Linux because they derive their profits from hardware.  Oracle, Seibel, Computer Associates and others derive  their profits from applications.  The ones that are hurt are the operating systems and software tool vendors.

Hank Cohen
Thursday, June 20, 2002


That's news to me. Very interesting stuff... do you have any references to learn more?

Leonardo Herrera
Thursday, June 20, 2002


Oh, and I mean, the Sun and Java stuff... that last post arrived a couple of seconds before mine.

Leonardo Herrera
Thursday, June 20, 2002

Hank you miss quoted, but your treatment of the subject matter was absolutely on mark. Well stated.


He actually said "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country"

http://www.generalpatton.com/quotes.html
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/g/a127600.html

[
An excellent essay! I'm reminded of the quote in "Patton" where the general says the opject is not to die for your country but to make the other fella die for his.
]

Larry From Queens
Thursday, June 20, 2002

Your logic is both tragically flawed, and out of touch with reliality.  Perhaps you should start with basic market studies, and ask consumers what they actually want, in lets say a cell phone[Yeah that's right ].  You may actually learn something and in the process save your investors money.

Who would in their right[ F..king] minds would want to buy a phone that yields only 30-60mins of talk time? but hey look it's got cross-platform flavored Duke.

My friend, Java on cell phones makes as much sense as Java in a toaster, or freezer. [The result is still divide by ZERO]



[
I'm going to be very inclined to simply buy Java-on-a-chip rather than port a JVM to some other processor. Sun wins big in that scenario.
]

Larry From Queens
Thursday, June 20, 2002

"My friend, Java on cell phones makes as much sense as Java in a toaster, or freezer."

???

I thought *that's* why Java was invented for.

Leonardo Herrera
Thursday, June 20, 2002

Hey,

Java on TV has been adopted as standard by OCAP (http://www.opencable.com/opencable_developers.html) and DVB's Multimedia Home Platform (MHP).  We use it in our appliance devices. 

Nokia makes Java enabled phones (http://www.nokia.com/phones/6610/index.html) as do many others.

Someone seems to think it makes sense.

Nat Ersoz
Thursday, June 20, 2002

Come you guys!!
Announcements DON'T a product make.

Do we have numbers in terms of overall market penetration? :-) NO!! You know why? gimics utilmately fail to sell product. Utility is still KING.

Besides the prospects of having to reboot my TV/FRIDGE/TOAST et al, everytime the garbage collection goes on hiatus, leaves little to be desired.

Leave the appliances precisely that.  DUMB, STUPID, and functional.

Larry From Queens
Thursday, June 20, 2002

[ Who would in their right[ F..king] minds would want to buy a phone that yields only 30-60mins of talk time? but hey look it's got cross- platform flavored Duke. ]

Java's not just for games.  All of your phone's application code could be written in Java.  That includes the phonebook, WAP browser, SMS message manager, datebook, call log, ring tone manger, settings manger and even the menu system itself with icons, scroll bars and softkeys.

As a device manufacturer, it makes more sense for me to buy a phonebook application off the shelf than to write my own.  Java gives you the device portability to do that.

Even if I decide to write my own, I'd rather write UI applications in Java than in straight C.  Ideally, they'll be easier to maintain.

The battery life problem you mentioned hasn't been a limiting factor.  Processors just get more efficient and batteries get better.  Micro sized fuel-cells are on the foreseeable horizon.

As for references, here's Sun's site:
http://www.sun.com/microelectronics/picoJava/

I found some Q&A's about Intellectual Property, but nothing blatant like, "HDL Java is patented by Sun."  Do a little reading though and look at the licensing agreements.  Clearly Sun plans to make a bundle selling picoJava chips.  I doubt you'd get the "Java" sticker for your box if you tried to make your own.

It's an interesting strategy really.  Promote a free VM to create a demand for the real machine.  By the time they made their first piece of hardware they already had a software base.

William Frantz
Thursday, June 20, 2002

a)  IIRC, Joel laughed that Sun's WORA* isn't real, and now he says that WORA will destroy Sun.  If he's right on both counts, then Sun will be ok since it isn't real and will therefore not destroy their hardware biz.

b) If he's wrong on one count, Java still can provide new market opportunities despite cannibalizing their current market.  What would Joel say about Sun's increasing adoption of Linux?  Sun realizes that their market is being attacked from below, by FreeBSD, Linux, and Windows.

c)  Apple natively runs Java; they even have a Sun engineer on loan.  Is Apple commoditizing their OS too?

It's an entertaining article, but Joel and his MSFT Sun-hatred, sanctimonious as Sun is...

* "write-once-read-anywhere "

jon s.
Thursday, June 20, 2002

Java's been running on Japanese mobile phones for 2 or 3  years now.

Japanese mobile phones are light years ahead of European and American models. I was there in 2001 and they had full colour screens, could play and download MP3s, on board cameras, always on internet connection and each phone has an email address rather than SMS.

Matthew Lock
Friday, June 21, 2002

Here's a link describing Java on i-mode

http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/p_s/i/java/index.html

Matthew Lock
Friday, June 21, 2002

As far as I know, MS wasn't that clever in old DOS days.
But IBM wasn't allowed to force MS to deliver DOS only for IBM.

Addressbar with Mozilla and IE: It's Ctrl-O
(And I use both, one with gif-animations enabled, and one not, because both don't have an easy way to turn on/off)

Florian W.
Friday, June 21, 2002

I don't know about USA (in mobile phones USA is lagging behind Europe for 1-2 years), but in Europe we have several phones with embedded Java. For example Siemens M50, ML42 and some others. I don't know about other phone makers, becouse I prefer Siemens phones (Currently I have M35 and think of buying M50). One of my friend has ML42 (java, mp3 player with MMC card and one of the smallest on the market), and Java in it is very useful - there are a lot of games available, custom address book(way better, than standart), and so on. You can write your own application in Java ME. I think Java will be standart in mobils in several years.

Sergey
Friday, June 21, 2002

the push for java on mobile phones comes from the network operators, not the buyers (in general). the idea is that the networks can d/l applets to phones which provide some whiz-bang feature or another, presumably in an effort to "lock in" their customers.

nope
Friday, June 21, 2002

I have not followed this closely, but isn't Java still a very proprietary technology that the owner can use to gain competitive advantages by controlling the feature set so as to handicap some implementations and favor others (e.g. the RNI vs JNI charade)? Suppose IBM had allowed clones of the PC, but witheld the right to improve on the "official" spec ...

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, June 21, 2002

ad 1st post in this discussion:

Where do you get the idea that a) no one is allowed to build a silcon JVM (or something
like that)  and b) that Sun is hogging this particular market for itselft?

Even if you know more than I do and there is really some license clause forbidding
people to build a JVM in hardware... WELL then Sun is not really using its advantage here,
because they couldn't be further from Java Bytecode interpreting hardware. Yes, there
are the picoJava (and microJava and UltraJava or whatever the names were...) Specs that
you can download, but none of those ever got sold or even produced.
And Sun doesn't really have any other Java hardware projects.
And there are projects out there, that provide more or less Java Bytecode execution in
hardware... eg. ARM CPUs with the Jazelle extension  (don't know how far along thy are).
hm... without thinkink a lot about it, I also remember (either a product or a company by the
name aJile, which had a JVM in hardware.

murphee
Friday, June 21, 2002

>> but isn't Java still a very proprietary technology...

Yes, sort of.  Java is largely OpenSource yet not Free Software.  That is you can get the source but you are under a licensed obligation as to its use (primarily its extensions or limitations).

>> that the owner can use to gain competitive advantages by controlling the feature set so as to handicap some implementations and favor others

Actually, as I understand it, this was Sun's attempting to limit MSFT's embrace and extend policy.  By offering RNI and not JNI, MSFT would limit the usefulness of code written by (say hardware suppliers) for JNI.

Had MSFT offered to include JNI as well as RNI, I don't think there would have been any problems (I'm guessing).  MSFT also had a valid point:  JNI is not a required interface for a JVM to pass compliance (last I read), and was not even spec'd available at the MSFT contract.

However, I'm guessing that the contract said something like "must support Sun's interfaces as Java progresses".  Which is another reason why you rarely see Java2 on MSFT platforms.

>> Suppose IBM had allowed clones of the PC, but witheld the right to improve on the "official" spec ...

Good point - we'd all have MCA adapters in our computers.  But that was IBM's failure  :)  Or we'd be running Intel PC's rather than IBM...

Nat Ersoz
Friday, June 21, 2002

I am surprised that Sun has not done more to create Java hardware. I've only heard a lot of hot air from Sun over the past few years. And if that was their plan, wouldn't Sun want to commoditize Java *software*? They should GPL their Java software, spread it far and wide. Now they have created a new commoditized, cross-platform (ie not Windows) platform and there is no SOFTWARE advantage.

Now they create their HARDWARE advantage. With sole rights to create Java hardware, they can build their advantage upon the existing commodity Java support. Of course, not many people would replace their PCs or Macs with Java PCs, but Java hardware would be perfect for cellphones and embedded systems. And there are more of those than PCs!

Banana Fred
Friday, June 21, 2002

what happens when a company takes GPL *software* and puts it in hardware? Must they give out the "source code" for their hardware? How do they do that?

Banana Fred
Friday, June 21, 2002

Well, one thing I can think of - before you commit to a hardware implementation, maybe you should get the bugs out first.

Joe AA.
Friday, June 21, 2002

www.opencores.org

examples of OpenSource (GPL'd?) hardware.

Nat Ersoz
Friday, June 21, 2002

Two comments:

1. The article reminded me of J.D Rockfeller that after becoming a big Oil producer, gave away kerosene lamps for free, so people would buy his oil. Again, complementary products.

2. The Linux kernel does use the GPL. However, it is possible to write some proprietary kernel modules, due to the fact that Linus Torvalds interprets the GPL in a relatively unique way that permits that.

Shlomi Fish
Saturday, June 22, 2002

It's always disappointing when a smart guy with great points flubs the details:

--There is no such company as "Netscape."  Netscape is a brand name that AOL/TW uses.

--AOL/TimeWarner did not buy Netscape.  AOL bought Netscape, later bought TimeWarner, and then became AOL/TimeWarner.

--AOL/TW is not an entertainment company.  It is a marketing company.  They sell eyeballs to advertisers in a variety of ways.  For their management, content is nothing, ancillaries are everything.

jedburgh
Saturday, June 22, 2002

"I am surprised that Sun has not done more to create Java hardware. "

Wel, you do want to lure your enemies out into nice open waters before you let them know that they are ruled by your submarines don't you ;-).

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, June 24, 2002

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