Lessons of Failure
Humans + Software Development = Always Interesting

Sep/10

1

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Axis of Evil (Oracle)

There’s a wide sense of lament since Oracle has taken over Sun and their intellectual property, including MySQL, Java, Solaris and their hardware sales business.  I’d say the average observer of this process might use the terms “slow moving train wreck”.  I doubt they are far off on this one.

You know what?  I think Oracle taking over Sun and acting stupid is actually a GOOD THING.

No, really I do.  Let me explain.

Sun has a long history of innovation with Java.  They also have a long history of missteps (take your pick, but I personally like the layoffs that happened biannually but basically culled the best folks who took packages to get out of the toxic environment)  and flat out screw ups (Hello?  Selling off your $1B/year professional services business because you’re not a “software company”?  Wish I had those kind of problems).  I have a number of personal friends who worked there (mostly past tense, but there are still a few stragglers left) and I don’t wish their employer to crater.  No, not at all.

So why is Oracle’s behavior regarding the death of Open Solaris or suing the crap out of Google for the use of Java in Android a good thing?  Easy:  We now have an opportunity to spur the development world into action.

The Empire Formerly Known As Evil

Flashback to 1995:  Microsoft (the former and still ranking Evil Empire) was king of the developer world.  Open source was a twinkle in the eyes of a few idealists.  Developers paid handsomely to Attack of the Clippy Zombiesbuy into the Visual Studio paradigm.  Or they bought from a competitor (Borland).  C++ and C were the de rigeur choices of language at the time.  Enter Java and the entire development world was turned upside down.  No one saw Sun as the disruptive innovator at the time.

Of course, other factors played into it over the years:  the rise of the internet, the Dot Com boom and server sales tied into Java usage, the rise of open source and the overwhelming support from the community regarding Java, driving huge amounts of frameworks still in use today.  But there was always a motive:  fight the evil empire.  We fight them because the evil empire doesn’t “get it”.  Remember Microsoft’s internet strategy in the late 90s? (From a blog post regarding the missteps of Microsoft, particularly Project Blackbird)

Adobe’s Mark Anders about his time at Microsoft. Anders is well known as one of the inventors of ASP.NET, along with his colleague Scott Guthrie. However, when he joined Microsoft in the mid nineties he worked initially on the project codenamed Blackbird. This was a kind of Windows-specific internet, and was surfaced to some extent as the MSN client in Windows 95. Although the World Wide Web was already beginning to take off, Blackbird’s advocates within Microsoft considered that its superior layout capabilities would ensure its success versus HTTP-based web browsing. It was also a way to keep users hooked on Windows. Anders told me that he never believed in Blackbird and argued that Microsoft should support HTTP instead. According to him, the executives at the time did not want to listen at first, but Blackbird had severe performance problems

Darth Ellison and the EmpireStuff like this always pisses off the right people. Microsoft didn’t get it, and people got mad.  Microsoft’s stupidity in thinking they could control the internet spurred lots of innovation from other companies to make the *real* internet even more valuable.  Eventually Microsoft capitulated and followed suit with everyone else. 

And that’s precisely what I’m counting on here for the Oracle debacle. Because Oracle isn’t getting it either (at least for developers). Tim Bray’s article today has a great quote from the Empire itself:

“You don’t get it. The central relationship between Oracle and its customers is a business relationship, between an Oracle business expert and a customer business leader. The issues that come up in their conversations are business issues.

“The concerns of developers are just not material at the level of that conversation; in fact, they’re apt to be dangerous distractions. ‘Developer mindshare’… what’s that, and why would Oracle care?

Let’s Shake Things Up

Java not good enough for Android?  Fine, let’s make a new language that finally innovates on the mobile device, unlocking us from the collective disasters of Objective C, mobile Windows, and bloated Java ME.  If Java 7 is going to die at the hands of Oracle, maybe that will motivate some development group to actively fork it in a meaningful way.  Or finally develop the successor language to Java that revolutionizes the software community the way Java did in the mid-90s.

This complacency about Java, MySQL, and the state of Sun products has got to stop.  It’s time to shake things up.  And the last time that happened, exciting times were had by all.

I can’t wait.

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9 comments

  • D. Lambert · September 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Have you seen the stuff the Mono project is doing?

    http://www.mono-project.com/Main_Page

    Any reason this wouldn’t get the job done?

    Does it really have to be an entirely new language?

  • Author comment by Dave · September 1, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Yes, I have see .NET on Linux before, but I don’t think it has the momentum to be the “next big thing”, at least that’s my NSHO. If it was going to go big, I suspect it would have already…maybe something will change that, but I’m not sure Oracle’s stupidity is that catalyst. :)

  • Paul Keeble · September 1, 2010 at 11:49 am

    I have to agree. I think the building storm around Java and all the little and big things Oracle are doing are driving developers to look elsewhere. Before the Oracle announcement I was annoyed that the decline wasn’t really getting started despite better language availability. Oracle taking over is the nail that may finally do enough damage.

    But when people are looking for their next language I don’t think they will look too weird compared to their current base knowledge. Nor will they just jump to anything. Java solved genuine problems with c and I think the language chosen will be solving real problems that make a material difference in the reliability of Java’s code. Parallelism may well be that killer problem, but slightly better syntax and a bit of functional magic just isn’t important enough. I may be eating my words in two years time of course.

  • joel garry · September 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    1995… I had already been working on Sun and other unix for half a dozen years, after a decade of DEC. Of course it wasn’t an innovator, it was already mainstream. I thought that Borland and MS stuff was crap then, and haven’t had much reason to change my opinion – periodically since then, I’ve really tried to give MS a chance, and every time it bones itself. Even now, 64-bit Windows, java, and Oracle can be a lousy combination.

    I’ve never bought into java either. I’m a db server oriented guy, no apologies. Computers are for sharing and communicating, not a bunch of nerds sitting in a corner. Yes, Oracle has a business oriented world view, that’s what companies with shareholders do, their mission is clear.

    So what happened to all those innovative companies? Netscape? Roadkill. Borland? Kahn made a good living spewing buzzwords at expensive conferences. C and object paradigms as development environments? A big cause of legions of modern developers not being very good at programming applications. The internet? Look at Google’s SEC filings and see where it makes its money – one big advertising agency.

    There’s a huge skew of how successful technological revolutions really are. A few big home-runs overshadow the vast majority of failure – and even those winners lose as they can’t evolve. Marketing always wins over technical superiority.

    Remember the productivity paradox.

    Oracle isn’t stupid, developers thinking they are more important than they are is stupid.

  • Peter · September 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    That’s why I prefer reading Twitter. You could just have said: “I love Oracle because it kills Java”.

  • ok · September 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    well, peter, then go run off and play on twitter. the adults are trying to have a conversation.

  • Scotty W · September 3, 2010 at 4:47 am

    “I personally like the layoffs that happened biannually but basically culled the best folks who took packages to get out of the toxic environment”

    I don’t really agree with this. Certainly from where I was sitting in Sun, the layoffs just culled entire projects at a time, regardless of the experience of their staff. Sometimes that meant you lost very senior managers and engineers (well, most times, because Sun had a virtual hiring freeze for almost a decade), sometimes it didn’t. I can only recall one, maybe two rounds of layoffs early on that allowed for voluntary redundancies, at least in any parts of the company I was working for or dealing with.

  • Weekly LinkedList #4 « Code Anthem Blog · September 3, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    [...] How I learned to love the new axis of evil I think Oracle taking over Sun and acting stupid is actually a GOOD THING. [...]

  • Kirill Chilingarashvili · September 24, 2010 at 12:49 am

    “Or finally develop the successor language to Java that revolutionizes the software community the way Java did in the mid-90s”
    C# ?

    :)

    Interesting Article!

    Kirill

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