Caffeine Headaches

The easiest way to kill something nice is to make it popular.

This certainly is the case with restaurants and bars.  Pleasant, cozy cafes and lounges become unlivable hellholes once they gain notoriety.  You can’t find a seat, a table, a waitress.  Service vanishes, quality suffers and you can’t enjoy the environment once 347,890 of your closest friends go there … every night.  The same may apply to software, though the mechanics of the destruction of value differs.

Such may be the fate of Java.
For all its early warts, Java became an important technology.  It was the first cross platform application language that didn’t suffer from 4GL rigidity or opaque stupidity of design.  Once woven into the fabric of web pages, it provided the first major addition to HTML and made web applications behave more like desktop applications.  The web became more intuitive while server-side applications became more fluid, released from the rather awkward confines of the old CGI apparatus.  While Sun kept Java (more or less) open and devoid of exploitive patent litigation, developers were willing to gulp Java as well as Diet Coke.

Naturally, it took Larry Ellison to screw this up.

Some very smart people predicted that Oracle didn’t want Sun as much as they wanted Sun’s percolator.  Since Java was the foundation of Oracle’s Fusion, and since competitor IBM was the biggest Java development shop on our Big Blue globe, Oracle had an interest in obtaining control over the destiny of Java.  In short order Oracle co-opted IBM into abandoning a Java clone and then sued Google for sundry alleged violations of Sun patents for Java technologies (and one must wonder, given Ellison’s salted earth approach to competing, if litigation was not mentioned to IBM before their conversion to the Church of Larry). According to Oracle’s shysters, “Android (including without limitation the Dalvik VM [Java] and the Android software development kit) and devices that operate Android infringe one or more claims of each of United States Patents Nos. 6,125,447 … [blah, blah, blah].”

This may have scared Steve Jobs.

In news that rattled even Mac-only developers, Apple announced it was decaffeinating Macs.  The official response was muddled with much misguided and inaccurate justifications, but the bottom line was that Java will not come pre-loaded on future versions of Macs.  No developer can thus be assured that Java will exist there and would be criminally insane to develop using Java for Macs.

They may feel the same way about Android if Oracle’s hammer lands heavily.

Java’s popularity brought about Oracle’s acquisition, abuse and now possibly its demise.  Making development upon any platform uncertain begins its downfall.  For about twenty years I have had taped to my to my computer monitor the business card of an HP marketing manager who was behind the decision to unbundle Image DBMS from the HP3000 operating system (MPE), breaking a relied-upon development paradigm.  Many market trends spelled the doom of the HP3000 and most other proprietary operating systems, but at the date of that decision I heard developers who had made their entire living off of the HP3000 declare they were going to branch-out.

“I cannot overstate what catastrophe this is,” is how one Apple Java developer was quoted. “If the future of Java on Mac is in doubt, then I have no other choice than going the Linux way…all the work I’ve done trying to get all developers converting to Mac is undone.”

Oracle is committing a marketing mistake by removing developer’s Java addictions.  Once uncertainty abounds about the availability of a programming language on any target platform, then that language is scuttled, if not the platform as well.  Perhaps Ellison wants to hamper Android (which is silly since Oracle makes no money on mobile) or emasculate Macs (which is silly because not only is Oracle not in the desktop business, Mac users are already emasculated).  Protecting patents is fine, but disrupting and dissipating the good favor of a core product lapses into stupidity, especially when the very body that most closely supports the platform is thrown into spasms.

It also accelerates a drive Steve Jobs and Google have initiated via HTML5, to begin weeding out proprietary components from the web.  Since Ellison is treating Java as a proprietary product, it will suffer the same fate as the HP3000 (“The HP what?” I hear people saying, to which I reply “Exactly”).


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