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The bitter dregs of JavaOne

That's not the only bad beverage at the conference.

I got home last night to find an irate message from Grandma DuBaud on the answering machine: "Skinny, mon p'tit, 'ow dare you still use ze monopolist Windows? And you send me letters in Word documents! Ptui! Take zat! I spit out your desktop hair ball!" It's all my fault. Figuring she could use a little entertainment with eight feet of snow piled around her modest cabin, I had told her to tune in to the JavaOne Webcast this week. Alas, it seems the McNealy Kool-Aid has gone straight to her head.

That's not the only bad beverage at the conference. Forget about Enterprise JavaBeans and virtual machine clones. When future generations remember this show, they'll squirm over the lingering bitterness of that awful (but free) coffee ubiquitously placed around San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center. Dégueulasse! We expect watery joe at Comdex in Vegas, but at JavaOne in the City? When asked about this not-so-delicious irony, one Sun executive passed the buck, saying the convention center did the catering.

Rotgut coffee notwithstanding, it seems that everyone's conspiring to distract attention from the software on the show floor. The Java Virtual Machine "clone" that HP announced last week was obviously not coincidental. Then a federal judge knocked Microsoft upside the head for using the Java-compatible logo on its browser and SDK, both of which failed Sun's compatibility tests for the language last fall. Scott McNealy told the press that he loved the decision but not the timing. He shouldn't shoot a gift caribou up the nose, as my late Grandpère François used to say after his hunting trips to the northern reaches of Québec.

Still, Microsoft deserved the reprimand, at least for its ever-famous hubris. Attendees poured in Tuesday to find the slogan "Try it once. It won everywhere" chalked in fluorescent colors on the sidewalks surrounding the Moscone Center. The phrase is both a swipe at Java's motto and a promotion for Microsoft's own Visual J++ development tool that creates Windows-only Java programs and that Redmond claims is winning accolades. This isn't the first time MS has desecrated the streets of San Francisco; it used a similar ploy when it launched Sidewalk. Where are the cops when you need them? I get a $75 ticket for curbing my wheels the wrong way, but MS gets away scot-free for its ad pollution.

Back inside, the Java geeks were lining up like Soviet shoppers to get their Java rings, which looked like class rings from Trekkie Central High School. Glued to each ring is a button with an embedded chip running Java, encryption, and a personal code, and each attendee is supposed to "log in" by putting the ring in a reader, Wonder Twin Power style, and help create fractal art. Now that's entertainment.

The button makers, Dallas Semiconductor, brought 20,000 rings to the show to hand out gratis, but company honchos were coy about how much it cost to produce the tchotchkes.

"We didn't really count. We just put our heads down and went for it," the Dallas VP of marketing told a trusted Skinformant. Didn't count? Accountants across the world must be wincing. And who paid for the rings? My Skinformant did a little digging: Sun reps claim Dallas spent the cash; one Dallas rep at the company booth said Sun "subsidized us." But the Dallas marketing wonk overruled that claim, sort of, with a "not really" answer. No one wanted to talk dollar figures, even after it was revealed that McNealy and the other grands fromages at Sun all got 14-carat gold versions to wrap around their fingers.

Note to all Java spies: Because the rings use strong encryption to protect their wearers' personal data, they would normally not be exportable without a government license. To avoid having anyone lose a finger to the feds, Dallas distributed the goods with a weaker form of encryption instead.

Speaking of spies, one secret agent was lurking at the Lotus booth and overheard that the Sabre Group, the airline reservation system company, has licensed the all-Java workgroup suite eSuite although no announcement has been made. No word if it will actually be used to book tickets to crowded Indonesian islands.

More heavy metal: Are you also curious why Sun execs are more or less soft-shoeing the potential copyright infringement in the HP JVM cloning issue? McNealy the Mouth, who will say bad things about anyone with little prompting, even called HP an "honorable, high-character" bunch of folks. You got questions? We got answers. Look no farther than page 2 of the JavaOne conference guide: HP is the show's "platinum sponsor." After all this Java purism, I'm jonesing for some 100 percent pure Colombian. If your name is Juan Valdez, or if you have a hot rumor, email me tout de suite.