Why Sun Should Spin Off Java

When I left you last time it was Beat Up Sun Microsystems Day. It's always painful when that time of year comes around -- I'd love to see a strong, healthy Sun as much as anyone. But since the company's last, disappointing earnings report, the other shoe has dropped, and now here come the layoffs. Maybe I should just leave Sun alone for a while?


[ InfoWorld's bloggers weigh in on Sun's future: "Should Apple acquire Sun Microsystems?" and "Sun shines dimly in Big Blue's shadow" ]

It's all well and good when the industry press talks about what an enterprise technology company should be doing. But when the investor press gets in on it, watch out. Last week, Forbes published an editorial by Andy Greenberg and Rebecca Buckman -- a survey of analyst opinion about Sun -- entitled no less than "What Sun Needs to Survive."

Among the recommendations: Spin off Java. Just get rid of it -- farm it out to an industry consortium and let the companies that depend upon it manage it, "killing another sacred cow."

Steaks for Dinner

It's not a bad idea, and it comes from a pretty smart guy. He's Peter Yared, who is not technically an analyst but a former Sun exec who worked in the company's identity management and application server divisions. Post-Sun, he founded a company called ActiveGrid (now WaveMaker) and more recently iWidgets, a content syndication platform provider.

Today, Yared would like to see Sun seriously streamline its product offerings. He thinks Sun should sell off its Sparc business and concentrate on x86 processors. More importantly, he thinks Java is ripe for the axe. "Honestly, it's a legacy language at this point," he says.

Yared has some history as a Java gadfly. Around 2006, he wrote an open letter to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, raising what at that time was still a heretical idea: Sun should open-source the Java platform. The gist of it was that if Sun opened Java, it could work better with other languages that might want to run on the JVM. "Why is it good to open source OpenSolaris and OpenOffice and bad to open source Java?" Yared asked.

Obviously, it isn't 2006 anymore. Java is almost completely open source now, and the work to get other languages working with the JVM proceeds apace. But apparently Yared still isn't satisfied.

Funny thing: Yared left Sun in 2003. If we dial the InfoWorld Wayback Machine back to 2003, we can listen in on what analysts were saying about Sun then. Shh! Quiet! The vibrations are coming in. "Merrill Lynch ... concerned about losses ... faces crisis ... shelve Sparc and go with x86 ... and spin off Java."

Coincidence? I wonder where Peter Yared was when Merrill Lynch's Steven Milunovich was making those recommendations. (I suppose I could just ask him, but that would be no fun.)

Still, although the remark about sacred cows was the Forbes reporters' words and not Yared's, I think it hits the mark. Yes, Sun has released Java as open source. The cow has wandered out of the barn, but it's still sacred. Maybe it's time someone ran up and killed it.

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