Java Store limps to daylight

While we all wait for the Sun-Oracle merger to wind its way to a close (by January, maybe?), let's pause to acknowledge what should be kind of big Java news: the advent of the Java Store, which should be open to shoppers "in the next week or so"! And if you're wondering about the selection, know that the number of apps on the shelves is already ... approaching 50!

OK, forgive me for stifling a bit of laughter. In my other blogging life, I cover Apple, and of course the iPhone App Store counts its offerings in the tens of thousands. This is an unfair comparison -- the App Store is more mature, obviously -- but the Java Store strikes me as a fairly obvious copycat service, so I think it's sort of inevitable.

Of more fundamental concern is just what the point of the Java Store is. The App Store economic equation goes something like this: Having lots of bits of specialized functionality makes the iPhone platform more attractive, and rather than writing all those Apps themselves, Apple is happy to provide a marketplace simple enough to provide economic incentive for programmers to do the work for them. Apple takes its cut, of course, but that revenue isn't really the main purpose, and pales in comparison to the gobs of cash the company makes selling the phones (phones which, keep in mind, are easier to sell because "there's an app for that").

But what sort of money-making activities is the Java Store supposed to prompt? The Java runtime is free to end users, so more downloads don't profit Sun (despite the fact that the company routinely trumpets the number of JRE downloads as relating to its health somehow). If the store's a success (big if), it could provide an incentive to get more people writing Java apps, but again, why? Is that going to sell more Sun servers or Oracle all-in-one enterprise appliances?

If there is something potentially profitable here, it's the possibility of mobile sales -- remember, Sun does charge (and turn a profit from) Java ME licensing on handsets. It's important to note that the Java Store has two parts -- the Store, which is the front end, and the Warehouse, which is where all the apps are stored and organized. My guess is that Sun is hoping that the Warehouse will be attractive as a ready-made backend for carriers who want to launch their own App Stores on their handsets (particularly their not-quite-smartphones). That's a real potential moneymaker for Java -- a shocker, I know! We'll see if it takes off.