The Third Front

jisScott McNealy’s reappearance at JavaOne for the first time in the years since he handed control to Jonathan Schwartz had the feeling of a swan song. But there was also a steely purpose to his gate and demeanor, as he dismissed Schwartz with a hearty handclasp for his stewardship and extracted the slide clicker from his grasp with a note of baton-passing. The camera didn’t even follow Jonathan offstage; he just wasn’t there anymore.

Then it was on to incoming owner Larry Ellison, who Scott framed with a few setup remarks about what he called a merger before engaging Ellison in the only Q&A allowed under the terms of the pre-acquisition interregnum. It was all about Java, of course, neatly sidestepping the hardware plans and focusing instead on Sun’s latest Microsoft counterattack, JavaFX. Ellison positioned the Silverlight/Flash clone as the development environment for netbooks and an AJAX-less version of OpenOffice. This was in odd counterpoint to Google’s Android strategy, which is spreading from phones to Acer netbooks while leveraging Google Web Toolkit to write Java apps that compile into Javascript code.

At Google I/O Google engineering chief Vic Gunodtra — who leads similar duties after managing Microsoft developer strategies — outlined an integrated strategy that incorporates GWT and the open source Eclipse IDE as a way of moving rapidly away from proprietary code to an HTML 5 platform built on “modern” browsers that already run on Chrome and FireFox. Ellison seems to be suggesting JavaFX as a way of capturing those same Java developers Google is squiring, though JavaFX is not supported by Eclipse but only by Sun’s NetBeans environment.

Though Ellison cited his “friends” at Google, the sentiment echoed the “merger” talk McNealy was pitching until he carefully handed his new boss a signal flag that the two straddled as Scott translated the letters as J A V A. Whether you buy the good news that Sun’s and Oracle’s R&D budget is between $4 and 5 billion annually, it will be interesting to see whether Ellison’s nod toward the mobile desktop and a new front against Office is serious. With Microsoft’s Dan’l Lewin and Steven Martin keynoting Thursday’s session, Oracle and Ellison may be fighting the last war and giving Google room to consolidate around a strategy that marginalizes Java as a programming language, keeps Java off the iPhone, and creates a three-front war that allows Microsoft to slipstream Silverlight into a netbook Office play.