Baratz leads Java lovefest

Alan Baratz, the Sun executive who guided Java to its meteoric rise, talks about how the technology makes money, Sun's rivalry with Microsoft, and potential tool acquisitions.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
6 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--James Gosling and his team of Sun developers may have created Java, but Sun executive Alan Baratz has guided the technology to its meteoric rise.

In just several years, Baratz, president of Sun's Software Products and Platforms Division, has turned Java into a formidable opponent against Microsoft, despite several bumps along the way, chief among them Sun's lawsuit against the software giant over its use--or misuse--of the Java technology.

The two rivals once fought for control of the desktop. Now they're squaring off on the server and in consumer products.

In the latest twist of this bitter conflict, Baratz yesterday kicked off the JavaOne conference--Sun's yearly Java lovefest--with an armful of new technology and partnership announcements: ammunition aimed right at Microsoft.

In an interview with CNET News.com, Baratz discussed the importance of Sun's partnership with 3Com's PalmPilots, his company's competition against Microsoft, and the different ways Java helps Sun make money.

And perhaps, in a hint of news to come, he coyly responds to a question on whether Sun is looking to purchase a Java development tool by saying he's talking to all development tool companies--and that anything is possible.

CNET News.com: What's does it mean for Sun to have 3Com using Java 2 Micro Edition in its Palm operating system?
Baratz: We finally have an implementation of Java that fits in 100K bytes. As a result, it's capable of living in Palm computing devices, Motorola two-way pagers, or NTT DoCoMo I-Mode cell phones. Any kind of consumer device can support any Java platform. This is important because we think 3Com is rapidly becoming the alternative desktop client. Let's face it. The Palm Computing device is the handheld market. It now has 70 percent market share. There are millions of devices out there. And it's becoming part of the extended enterprise computing environment. We're delighted to bring Java to this new market. It broadens the opportunities for Java developers.

From 3Com's perspective, this is a great deal. They can now tap into over 1.5 million developers who are building applications. Applications built for the Motorola two-way pager will run on the Palm and the applications for I-Mode cell phones will run on the Palm. This allows 3Com to tap into a broader base of applications.

How does Jini fit into the Palm agreement?
The starting point is to get the Java 2 Micro Edition platform onto Palm devices because Java 2 is a prerequisite for Jini. Then we'll move on to leveraging the Jini technology. There's no reason why your Palm couldn't control your TV set or stereo system.

What's the importance of the Java 2 Enterprise Edition?
For a couple of years now, we've been developing Java-based enterprise integration technologies--Java Database Connectivity, Enterprise JavaBeans, Java Server Pages--and on and on. Our licensees and customers have been selecting which of those components to incorporate. We've seen servers with lots of different subsets of that technology. As an application developer, you could never be assured which components were on the servers.

With Java 2 EE, we're defining the complete suite of technologies that define an enterprise server platform. We are guaranteeing all those components will be there. They can interoperate all with one another. So Java 2 EE presents a complete software programming environment for creating business logic and linking the back-office legacy systems into more modern Net-based environments.

It looks like Microsoft vs. the rest of the industry in the application server market. How will the competition play out?
About every application server out in the market, except Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), supports the Java 2 platform. And increasingly, they support EJBs and Java 2 EE. And today, most of the market share is not MTS. It really is those third-party application servers all presenting a common Java programming environment. We're seeing rapid growth in the base of EJBs or enterprise Java business logic. I think we're going to see Microsoft end up embracing Java 2 EE one way or another. The base of business logic that it is written to is too large for them to ignore.

We really do think it's Microsoft in one solution and the rest of the industry locked at the hip in another solution. Microsoft is a fierce competitor. They will use whatever tactics they can think of to drive market share or forestall competition. But at this point, maybe they have their eye off the ball because this stuff is taking hold at a very rapid pace.

You're now in a more powerful position after the company reorganization, where some Java products and employees have moved onto the Sun-Netscape Alliance. Can you describe your role now?
I'm now responsible for all the software products and platforms within Sun. That includes everything from the Solaris operating environment, to the Java platform, to consumer/embedded products. Large footprint and small footprint browsers, and our thin-client hardware, the JavaStation. Also our ISV relations and market development programs.

We've concluded that computing is moving in the direction of portals. Not just consumer computing, but enterprise as well. In the near future, businesses, whether they are delivering computing to employees, suppliers, or customers, will deliver through portals. They're gluing legacy systems and services into the Internet browser, Web-based front end and the Java technology, of course, plays an important role in all that.

The bottom line is we need a complete end-to-end suite of products, from servers to desktops, to extended enterprise devices, like Palm Computing devices.

What I'll focus on is to ensure Solaris is the most rock solid, mission critical operating environment, that all versions of Java continue to evolve through the open Java Community Process, and to provide functionality, performance and reliability that our developers, customers and licensees need and demand. But at the same time, try to better leverage and integrate across the various software technologies and products, from consumer/embedded to Java 2 Standard Edition to middleware being developed in the Alliance.

What's the relationship between you and the Alliance?
I'm one of the members of the Alliance advisory board and [Sun executive] Mark Tolliver, general manager of the Alliance, and I have worked closely together the last few years and we're working closely today to ensure proper integration of the Alliance and Sun products.

How does Sun make money off Java? What's the current answer to that question?
It's the same answer as a year ago. The same answer from two and three years ago. Sun makes money off Java in different ways. We generate direct licensing revenue from OEMs. We sell products that leverage the technology, like application server products. And thirdly, we use the Java technology as leverage to get into and establish ourselves as a strong enterprise software partner and supplier. In many cases, in the enterprise computing environment, you go in to sell the server and the CIOs say we want to hear about your software architecture. Java is a key component. Most CIOs recognize the source of the technology is from Sun and that gives us a lot of leverage as we go in and engage corporate IS organizations. We also get revenue from training, Java developer certification, and professional services.

Analyst firms have said Sun needs a good Java development tool and have suggested that you purchase one from either Inprise or Symantec, maybe Forte. Are you looking to enhance your offerings in anyway?
Yes, we are. Stay tuned. I wish we could have announced something here today. But we couldn't, so stay tuned. We're talking to everybody. We talk about all kinds of things when we get together. These days, you sit down with a company and everything's open for discussion.