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Commentary: Sun's catch-22

Sun Microsystems has firmly established itself as an innovator with Java, its groundbreaking programming platform, but it still has tough road ahead.

By Daryl Plummer, Gartner Analyst

Sun Microsystems firmly established itself as an innovator when it introduced its groundbreaking programming platform, Java, seven years ago.

See news story:
Java jigsaw
Java was a direct assault on the company's archrival, Microsoft. But Sun rode the wave of Java's popularity right to the top of the Internet community and became a powerhouse competitor to IBM and Microsoft.

Sun used the first of its lawsuits against Microsoft to make sure it stayed firmly in control of Java and its direction. In the 1996 settlement of that suit, Microsoft was forced to license Java. But something went wrong, and instead Microsoft modified Java to suit its own purposes. Another lawsuit followed that took four years to settle. As a result, Microsoft now has its own "version" of Java, C#.

Sun is again suing Microsoft, this time in an attempt to open up Java's (and its own) opportunities on the desktop, which is dominated by Microsoft. The courts are just one of the strategies Sun is using to boost its capabilities around Java.

Although Sun has had remarkable successes with Java, those victories have not translated into revenue. Sun seems to do all the work, while others make more money. In its latest actions, the company will have to convince the judge that it has been damaged by Microsoft's exploitation of Java. But if the judge remains unconvinced, Sun once more will end up fighting the good Java fight while the benefits go to others.

It's doubtful, though, that a deal could ever have been struck between Microsoft and Sun. From Microsoft's perspective, any time a company chose to use Java, Microsoft and its platform suffered a loss, and it reacted accordingly. Sun benefited from Java's openness; Microsoft did not.

Gartner believes that Java has been something of paradox for Sun. After all, if companies such as Microsoft and IBM had not used Java, Java would not have been successful.

(For a related commentary on what Sun needs to do to boost Java, see gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.