Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Java Business Questions

I was reading about Java/ Java World being in BMW’s to mobile phones. How does SUN/ Java currently make money on this exactly?

Could someone fill me in?


Prakash S
Friday, July 2, 2004

Sun doesn't really make much money on Java.  I think they charge for compatibility tests (for J2EE containers and such) and they hvae some Java products they sell such as a J2EE container (which they may have stopped selling).

To my mind Java was basically a loss leader. It "saved" UNIX from the windows server onslaught and kept Sun's name in the press thus making their UNIX boxes easier to sell for a time.

name withheld out of cowardice
Friday, July 2, 2004

I guess on some level, Sun is trying to create a platform, in the same way MS has, and SAP is trying to in the ERP world.  Create the platform, make it ubiquitous, and vendors will target it.  Once you get that nice market pull suction effect, you're golden.

The difference however is in that Sun's motivation doesn't really seem to be directly financial.  Maybe it's all for the glory?  Which of course has its own US$ exchange rate further down the road...

Friday, July 2, 2004

Sun started development on Java at a time when creating a programming language in order to sell development tools was a viable business model.  Remember, Bjarne Stroustrup sold AT&T on C++ largely as a business opportunity to lead another development market.

Unfortunately for them, Java took off at exactly the same time as most things Internet were becoming free, which included sufficient development stuff to obviate that market.

Justin Johnson
Friday, July 2, 2004

I think there was money in development tools, but Sun never made a decent development tool.  They all sucked huge.  Primarily because they had to be 100% java for dogmatic reasons. Java is good for a lot of things.  Writing monolithic desktop apps like a development environment isn't one of them.

Where Sun really screwed up was they didn't focus on how to make money off of software and their hugely dominate position in the Java market. 

McNealy always looked at software as a way to sell hardware.  Sun should have been BEA.  Why they allowed everyone to take their market why they gave tools away,  I'll never know.  Plus the acquisitions they did make turned out to never be big winners.  Just poor management all the way around.  Gosling handed them Java and they blew it anyway.

Friday, July 2, 2004

Good post, Christopher.

And to build on that:  Joel had an incisive comment on Sun back in the day.  Something to the effect:  "Why would a proprietary hardware vendor offer its flagship software for running on any platform?"

That's a damn good question.  And it would appear to make ZERO business sense.
Friday, July 2, 2004

"Why would a proprietary hardware vendor offer its flagship software for running on any platform?"

As the underdog platform provider I am sure they hoped to break uSoft's dominance.  "Any platform" which includs Solaris is certainly better than Windows only for Sun.  I think Java added life to the Solaris platform, but when things got tough after the dot com boom, they crawled under a rock instead of attacking. 

Attacking would mean supporting Linux and Mozilla on the Desktop not Open Office (which was a lost battle) and merging with BEA. 

In other words provide a real alternative to Windows.

christopher (
Saturday, July 3, 2004

Good posts everyone.  I think we  can all agree that Sun botched making money off java in a couple different ways, and even worse, their competitors are making a lot of money off java (BEA, IBM to name a few).  Can Sun turn things around?  From what I hear, their App Server hasn't done a lot, and I don't hear much enthusiasm for their new IDE they are releasing.  What should they do, if it is possible, to start actually making money off java?

Saturday, July 3, 2004

My understanding is that Sun is licensing the Java platform (more specifically the J2ME platform) for the embedded/phone market. There isn't much competition there (compared to the standard JVMm also available from BEA or IBM). Each time you buy a device with J2ME technology inside, Sun is getting some royalty (less than 1$ I have been told some years ago from Sun reps)

Saturday, July 3, 2004

Sun had an alternative platform and a nice language. Two really neat things. And they did two dumb things. They gave the platform away. And they failed to control the platform on users' machines, so it became a confusing mess.

When Java 1.0 stabilised, they should have charged someone a small price for each installation. Even $20 would have been good. It was worth it just to get the language.

And they should have made sure that the Java platform would install only to a single instance on each machine, with versions managed precisely, as with Windows. It would be a different world now if they did that.

Saturday, July 3, 2004

"Java is good for a lot of things.  Writing monolithic desktop apps like a development environment isn't one of them."

How about Eclipse then?

Catalin (
Saturday, July 3, 2004

On IntelliJ IDEA?
Or JBuilder?

Catalin (
Saturday, July 3, 2004

Well, remember, Java was invented to provide a ubiquitous programming model for "smart-devices". In the early 90's Sun was trying to create a new market for themselves by making everday special purpose consumer-computing devices. This idea eventually flopped internally @Sun before ever even going to market. However, after the dust settled from the fallout, they realized they might have something that could be useful.

Enter Java.

The initial model was to license Java to companies that wanted to create their own JVM's as well as SDK's and Misc Tools to people that wanted to develop Java software. Eventually they realized the later would be prohibitive to adoption and dropped it.

Brian Abbott

Brian Abbott
Sunday, July 4, 2004

I guess that .net and java are very similar (to say it mildly).
Does Sun get something out for their Java patents in regards to .net?
Does that amount to big money or is it just peanuts?

Michael Moser
Sunday, July 4, 2004

Yes, Java and .Net are similar.  But the idea of compiling to byte code and running in a VM predates Java.

Monday, July 5, 2004

i don't know (may be ignorant) about the class file format, classloader, just in time compilation, reflection, and a batch of other goodies.
I guess *some of them* are covered by patents.

Michael Moser
Monday, July 5, 2004

... and microsoft probably patented .net attributes, the global assembly, .net security modell, + their particular version of remoting.

Michael Moser
Monday, July 5, 2004

I agree with "name withheld".

Java stopped Sun from being crushed by Microsoft.

It was brilliant Judo that let software engineers develop on the most popular platform (Windows) and deploy on high-end hardware (like Sun's), and at the same time attacked several of Microsoft's core assets: their platform, and their developer mindshare.

In all these things, it was wildly successful. If I didn't make Sun rich too, well, you can't have everything....

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home