Desktop Drift

Seems everyone is aiming for the desktop. Some are drifting slowly, trying to grind away Microsoft’s dominance. Others are planning a full frontal assault.

Yes, Larry Ellison is in the latter category.

The slow motion mob is of course Linux. Nearly a decade ago I was helping SuSE peddle the first competent Linux desktop distro. The Microsoft hurdle was steeper then than now, and we knew advising CIOs to conduct forced march migrations was folly. But CIOs were interested in researching alternatives, clearly disgruntled at being held captive by Bill Gates and his nerdy desperados.

We advised a piece meal approach. Since our study of CIO attitudes concerning Linux showed that they wanted their IT staffs to be Linux literate, we suggested migrating just IT to Linux desktops (sans Microsoft support teams who both needed Windows on their PCs, but would also attempt CIO assassinations if they were forced to use anything else). This way all developers, administrators and support teams would be become intimate with Linux in very personal ways. Once IT staffs achieved guru status, CIOs could plot expanding Linux desktops to other end users (transactional users first, power users and stodgy CIOs last).

It seems this is about as far as they got. On average firms deploying desktop Linux at all have done so to 20% of their staffs (some very aggressive firms have hit the 80% mark, which likely skews the results upward). These numbers suggest that where Linux desktops were taken seriously, the IT staff and some transactional users have been given a Microsoft alternative. Technologically speaking, that could have been done a decade ago. Thus it appears that migration momentum may have choked at that threshold.

Which is where Larry Ellison enters the picture, eye patch on and cutlass raised in the air. In buying Sun, Larry bought Java. Java is the closest thing to ubiquitous following Windows, Flash and lying politicians. This includes JavaFX, the Java solution for Rich Internet Applications (RIA). Given growing demand for Internet based applications and server-side application hosting, and given the inherent restrictions of stateless XHTML (AJAX not withstanding), RIA is an important piece of the puzzle.

Just ask Adobe, who is currently Flexing its muscles in that market.

Newsworthy then are Ellison’s Java plans, which included ‘suggesting’ to the Open Office crew to use JavaFX as the interface for future editions of the leading Microsoft Office alternative. Larry ‘suggested’ this approach in much the same way as Pol Pot suggested people become farmers and join the Communist Party. If executed well, employing JavaFX in Open Office would make the application suite richer, more flexible, more usable, runnable from the web and executable on smart phones … all in ways that Google Docs are not.

Ellison wasn’t kidding when he said that Java was “the single most important software asset we have ever acquired.” It gives him competitive keys to the desktop.

And it is proprietary, just like Microsoft or Adobe.

For all the thunderous press that the “opening” of Java received, many key components are still owned and controlled by Sun Oracle. Plans Sun may have had to open JavaFX are likely now being nailed to a cross. Larry loves it when Open Source from third parties hammers the competition, but has shown only occasional desire to let Oracle code be opened itself. JavaFX – as a tool for driving a wedge between Microsoft’s application suite dominance and thus its desktop OS dominance – may well be a key technology in charge a market landscape, and thus worth protecting.

Though I bet Larry might release JavaFX if Adobe Flex takes too much of a lead.


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