A Ticker Symbol Tip-off: why operating systems don't matter. (Or chip architectures. Or the speed of RAM.)

August 30, 2007 - by grassonthefield

When I read Sun Microsystems was changing its ticker symbol from SUNW to JAVA, I was dumbfounded. At first glance it seemed like a monumentally silly gesture. However, I now see it as an important market signal. And this is big. I don’t often run across burning bushes in the desert, but this ticker symbol sure was one. The utterance that the ticker symbol was changing to JAVA was an I AM WHO AM (Exodus 3:14) moment for me. The old gods of technology are being swept away. A new radical shift is coming. JAVA foretells this.

The exciting software development of today is being done on the internet. Desktop, packaged software has many years of utility left, but one doesn’t see millions of people adopting (=excitement) some installable desktop, client-side software the way people are adopting internet-based software. Further, it should be obvious that most people don’t base adoption of internet-based software on the underlying operating system, or server architecture, or chip architecture. Not even the framework (Ruby, PHP, Python, Java) is a consideration for adoption. The sole criterion is some loose idea of utility whether that be based on social draws, getting-things-done, kicking tires. We see this all at Joyent with respect to our own internet-based software offerings. Frankly, it comes down to ease-of-use and, while user-interface is a component of this, Google has schooled us all that basic response time is the critical user-experience feature required by repeat users.

We’re finding the same behavior holds true for network-based software development. Developers really don’t care about the machine, the operating system. Developers care about the framework (Java, PHP, Ruby, Python, etc.) and that it is optimized to give them more page views per unit of money spent or development efficiency on the road to page views per unit of money spent. For internal applications, development efficiency is key. But the machine, the operating system doesn’t really matter.

At least this is how I understand the message of JAVA. Java is where Sun touches developers (the most, they have JRuby…but that’s Java, too). Mr Ballmer of Microsoft was right: ...developers, developers, developers…. The important APIs used to be Win32, Office, Solaris. But no more. Things have moved up the stack.

[It’s intriguing to wonder what the long-term effects this change will have on desktops and laptops where packaged software (and hence operating systems) seem to matter more and more. In some ways, technologies such as Silverlight, AIR, Slingshot are attempts to answer the question. But these technologies don’t answer questions of interoperability (between applications built on different frameworks), device drivers (e.g. how to print) and much more.]