Not long ago, JW blogger Josh Fruhlinger began asking the question: What happens to Java without Sun? The general sentiment among commenters has been -- perhaps a bit defensively -- "Nothing happens to Java without Sun! Don't you realize it's open source?"
Well, the question was repeated last week in Timothy O'Brien's coverage of the Sun layoffs. And it came up again in at least one post on DZone. And then, finally, someone tried to answer the question.
Riyad Kalla may have mis-stated his point when he asked "Is Java becoming irrelevant?" but his analysis is worth following. While Sun's reorganization is promising from a shareholder perspective, it also is a scramble for position in the Java enterprise software market. The question now is whether that market has already evolved beyond Sun's ability to catch up.
Kalla mentions several vendors that do and will compete with Sun for ownership of Java -- not in terms of licensing, but in terms of affinity. As he points out, RedHat, IBM, and Oracle all have stake in the future of Java, and could be high bidders if it comes to that. But Kalla also mentions SpringSource, a company still small enough that it is unlikely to be invited to the auction, should there be one; but who needs an invitation when you can crash the gate? (Gate crashing has worked brilliantly for SpringSource so far, with CEO Rod Johnson now an executive committee member of the JCP.)
The real point of Kalla's speculation is that, while the "one-time stoic steward" of the Java platform is showing signs of weakness, "there are a lot of big elephants in the room," whose revenue streams are equally -- if not more -- tied to the Java platform. Moreover, none of these players needs to wrestle control of the Java language from Sun, not when peripheral attacks work just as well.
The trick, according to Kalla, would be to devalue Java as a language and, instead, promote the Java platform as a "means of execution for other languages controlled by other sources." Or, as he put it, a platform for platforms.