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JavaOneXI – Sun Spots, bleeding and other cycles

Posted by dmax69 on May 19, 2006 at 11:59 PM PDT

The last day of JavaOne 2006 began much like the first day of JavaOne 1996, with the intrepid Scott McNealy providing comic relief, pithy comments and yet another top ten list. There was something melancholy about Scooter this year, though, during his first JavaOne appearance as the former CEO of Sun Microsystems.

McNealy is a master of the stage. His quick wit and engaging smile never fail to endear…this year was no different. And yet, it was different, again in subtle ways. This year, the once-Libertarian McNealy came out of the Kumbaya closet as the one announcement he was allowed to make was the new corporate cause at Sun. The Age of Participation is not dead, it seems…far from it. Sun now has a corporate cause: eliminate the digital divide.


Arrogant? Completely. Difficult? In the extreme. Doable? Probably not. But as a smoke screen for ducking any misguided ideas the public may have had regarding Sun returning to profitability any time soon, it is either wildly insipid or cynically brilliant. We’ll see how it plays.

How can anyone be against bridging that darn digital divide? I often heard myself argue that Metcalfe’s Law (the potential value of the network is the square of the nodes) goads us into providing connections for everyone. It simply makes sense to connect everyone, in order to increase the potential value of the network for everyone….which obviously benefits all. Right? It’s not welfare. It’s enlightened greed.

If ubiquitous computing also means never being able to escape the probing awareness of the intelligent network, perhaps the goal of connecting everyone is not as promising or as beneficient as we might like to believe.

Connecting everyone assumes that being connected is a more desirable state than remaining separate. Being connected without barriers necessarily implies a much lower intellectual or cultural investment fromthe potential connectee…much lower than has been required to date. It is still true that half of the adults on our planet cannot read, despite the exponential growth of networking technologies during the past decade. Does that matter? The Ayn Rand in me smirks. What is the value proposition for connecting the mass of illiterate peasants that yet comprise the largest modality of the human condition? Or have we so long ago moved past the necessity of a viable value proposition that a well-stated humanitarian cause is virtue enough?

Perhaps it is a brilliant ploy on Sun’s part…clearly the virtuous call to bridge that digital divide will require a whole lot of hardware purchases. And who better to drive the mission than a well-meaning government bureaucracy? McNealy is focused on the federal government business of Sun now. Is Sun now coyly playing to the other side of the aisle? Are they betting on a sea change come November that will champion a digitally level playing field without those pesky financial barriers to entry? Perhaps…in which case, it’s a cynically brilliant ploy. Alas, given Sun’s investment in red ink this century, it may be one of their last best gambits. One thing is ultimately true: all bleeding stops eventually.

The coolest technology at the show this year: Project Sun SPOT. Fresh from Sun Labs, the sessions around the nascent sensor platform were (for the most part) packed. The traffic at the Sun SPOT booth on the pavilion floor was heavy and steady. And there was a sense of something very special about this funny little technology, despite the almost complete dearth of marketing collateral.


So….I am pleased to have been once again part of a JavaOne at the Moscone center. Reporting on the festivities has been something I have done for for the past few years…prior to that, I was doing it on my own. It feels like we’ve come full circle in many ways. The beginning of a new decade for Java finds it fully entrenched, yet still growing….still filled with promise and able to elicit a certain geek appeal if not mass hysteria, yet a standard, conservative, and a viable business choice. Java emerged in a peculiar way and remains a rather novel innovation. The culture surrounding it is part 60s chic, part 90s elite, part 21st century technique and full circle focused back on the developer community, from whence it came.

The JavaOne staff did an outstanding job in 2006…best conference of this century. The powers that be at Sun, though different, remain inscrutable in so many ways. To that extent, nothing has changed.

I have appended a few set of interesting things discovered at JavaOne this year to my list of eleven, which appears in full below.

1) In year eleven, JavaOne began the new decade with less fanfare, less demanding ambitions, and perhaps more developers worldwide than ever.

2) At the dawn of its second decade, Java is now the legacy platform, made so by its customers -- the developer community that made the choice to use it.

3) If computing and a network is involved, Java is somewhere in the mix fundamentally because of software developers.

4) Regarding open source Java, it’s not a question of if but how.

5) The “how” of open source Java may possibly include a litany of antecedent events, like “tied to the heels of flying pigs”, “hovering over my dead body” and “by arranging deck chairs on the Titanic as it flies over the Moscone Center.”

6) Profit is not an accident; it is a function of a firm’s inner beauty. The “Java Compatibility” thing may simply be a symptom of bad corporate feng shui.

7) You can break a lot of unwritten rules when you’re in the business of determining what is and isn’t relevant.

8) It may very well be true that you can make money without doing evil…as long as you are completely oblivious to protocol, the feelings of others and what used to be frowned on as poor taste.

9) Bridging the digital divide may be riddled with unintended consequences.

10) The ubiquitous network will begin to emerge by sensing more physical phenomena as the edge extends.

11) All bleeding stops eventually.

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