Oracle’s Bold Java Plans

Larry Ellison has never been shy about nudging Oracle into new parts of the software market. The database king has spent $40 billion to build a franchise in business applications, and has dabbled in areas including collaboration and virtualization software. Now, Oracle’s CEO is beginning to sketch his company’s road map for Java, which could extend Oracle’s ambitions into new areas.

In an appearance on stage at Sun Microsystems’ JavaOne conference in San Francisco June 2, Ellison said Oracle may develop Java software for netbooks, and would rewrite Sun’s personal productivity software in a way that lets it run in a Web browser. Oracle’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun, expected to close this summer, is the latest in a string of more than 50 buyouts of companies Oracle has made since 2005. As part of the deal, Oracle gains ownership of the Java programming language, which was created at Sun in the ‘90s.

Oracle may create a Java operating system and other programs for netbooks, according to sources familiar with its plans. Ellison alluded to those plans during a short speech at JavaOne, referring to PC maker Acer’s announcement on June 2 that it plans to ship a mini-laptop running Google’s Android operating system, which is written in the Java. “You’ll see us get very aggressive with Java and developing Java apps for things like telephones and netbooks,” said Ellison. “There will be computers fundamentally based on Java … not only from Google, but also from Sun.”

When Oracle announced the Sun deal Apr. 20, Ellison called Java “the single most important software asset we have ever acquired.” Java runs on 800 million PCs and 2.1 billion cell phones, and Oracle wants to pump more revenue out of it than the $220 million Sun booked in fiscal 2008.

Ellison said Oracle would push Sun engineers to build a version of the company's OpenOffice productivity applications using JavaFX, Sun’s two-year-old software for writing interactive Web applications. “We’ll encourage the OpenOffice group quickly to build their version of a spreadsheet and word processor using JavaFX,” Ellison said. OpenOffice’s user interface today written in the older C++ language.

The implication is that Oracle would offer users a spreadsheet and word processor that run in a Web browser, opening a new front in the battle for cloud computing software. The move would challenge Google, which is having trouble finding corporate customers for its Internet productivity software, and Microsoft, which is developing Web versions of Word and Excel for release next year.

Ellison’s remarks followed a lackluster hour and fifteen minute keynote by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz in which the word ‘Oracle’ wasn’t mentioned once. Finally, Sun chairman Scott McNealy took the stage and broke the ice. “There’s a big, pink elephant in the room,” he told the audience of software developers at JavaOne. “Is this Oracle thing a good thing for Java?”

The conference, which has attracted 15,000 developers, will be Sun’s last JavaOne after 14 years, according to McNealy. As he passed the torch to Ellison, there were moments of nostalgia and candor. McNealy thanked Schwartz for being a good “steward” of Sun during this three years as CEO. Java creator James Gosling admitted that “we were all nervous about how many people would show up today,” given Sun’s numbered days as an independent company.

McNealy and Gosling also partook in the hoary conference ritual of firing Java T-shirts into the crowd from a catapult, an exertion which left the graying Gosling panting visibly for breath.

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