Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Google / Sun Partnership: Cataclysmic, or More Fluffy Hype?

The tech world anxiously anticipated the press conference with the CEOs of Sun and Google. Many thought that this was the anticipated announcement of Google Office. We envisioned an Internet-based way to create, edit, store, and share the equivalent of Word, Powerpoint, and Excel documents.

Instead we got a promise that the companies would work together. The most concrete example was that you'd be able to download the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) with the Google Toolbar.

Sun has a long and rich history of over-hyping Java. I attended the first JavaOne conference and have followed the story since then.

The London Sunday Times reported in 1995 that Bill Joy said that “Javatization” could "end Microsoft." He said that “Java could spell an end to Intel’s rule as king of the chip world." He predicted that within a year there would be tens of thousands of Java applets to download.

Wow, that was really prescient. Ten years later, Microsoft remains dominant in operating systems and office software, AMD is struggling, and Apple is switching to Intel CPUs. And on the desktop, Java is insignificant. And Bill Joy has retired.

Ten years later, Sun is still hyping Java as a client-side solution. The. truth is, Java never caught on as a client-side technology. Java enjoys moderate success as a server-side, platform-independent programming environment.

If this announcement is about adding 20 megabytes to the downloading of the Google Toolbar in order to get the JRE on desktops that lack it, this ship will sink in the harbor.

The irony is that Google rocked the world with Gmail, showing us that Javascript can do so much more than validate numeric fields in a form box. But Javascript is very different than Java; your browser has it built-in, whereas Java is now something you have to download. Google doesn't need Java on the desktop to do awesome things. And if the anticipated Google Office requires JRE on the desktop to function, it too is dead in the water.

There is a saying that "you can't sail to all ports at once." Google is doing everything from trying to provide free Wi-Fi in San Francisco to helping a company whose sunset was obvious years ago. Has Google lost its compass? Did it ever really have one?

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