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March 23, 2009

Father of Java warns of ‘culture clash’ if IBM buys Sun

James Gosling, Sun Microsystems vice president, said in an exclusive interview with Computer Business Review (CBR) that there would, “Definitely be a culture clash,” between staff if IBM were to acquire Sun, as has been rumoured by The Wall Street Journal.

By Jason Stamper

The Wall Street Journal has reported that IBM is on the verge of acquiring Sun Microsystems, the software, systems and services vendor, for $6.5bn.

Gosling insisted the rumoured acquisition is, “Obviously just speculation at this point.”

But asked about the different cultures within IBM and Sun, and in particular their developer staff, Gosling said: “There would definitely be a culture clash. We’re definitely weirder than they are.”

“We grew up from a bunch of hippies, almost with flowers in our hair,” said Gosling.

Although the firm was founded in 1982, its proposition, which involved the peddling of open systems in general and Unix in particular — and more recently its transition into a major contributor to the open source software movement – has given it a certain hippy, perhaps even radical culture. Especially when compared to the more proprietary computing platforms that preceded it, IBM included.

But Gosling suggested that it would still be possible for Sun and IBM staff to settle their differences: “We’re a much more grown-up company now [than when Sun was founded] with a very different group of people. We’ve become a full-on enterprise software company,” he told CBR.

Asked whether it would be interesting to try and in some way combine some of Sun’s NetBeans open source development framework technology with IBM’s rival Eclipse project, Gosling said: “It would certainly be possible. We have been partners on the Java journey for quite a few years. In many ways there would not be a huge impact on Java development.”

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But in a statement that perhaps has ramifications for IBM’s rumoured acquisition of Sun, Gosling – the inventor of Java – said that the Java community is now, “Such a large community of people that nobody could control it. If anybody tried, it would ruin it all.”

Java is a programming language as well as a platform, that enables Java applications to run on almost any device in a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Sun estimates that there are 10 billion devices that are enabled to run Java today, including around 5 billion smartcards (including the UK’s Oyster Card travel ticket system) and around 3 billion mobile phones and PDAs.

Java was invented by Gosling and released by Sun in 1995. While other programming languages and platforms have come and gone, Java seems able to retain its relevance thanks to its “Write Once, Run Anywhere” capability and the flexibility that enables.

One of the latest major advances in the Java ecosystem is JavaFX, a rich internet application environment that Gosling says has the potential to out-manoeuvre the likes of Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight.

Keep an eye on for a longer Q&A with Gosling based on this interview.

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