Packet Rat: The Rat ponders the extinction of species

Michael J. Bechetti

'What's that, Dad?' asked one of the ratlings as the family scurried through the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History one recent weekend.

'A pachycephalosaurus,' Father Rat replied. 'That's its skull.'

'They sure did have thick heads,' the ratling marveled. 'What was all that bone on top for?'
'Scientists think they head-butted each other fighting over territory,' the wired one replied, 'just like software executives do today in courtrooms.'

Speaking of thick skulls, Sun Microsystems Inc. apparently thinks Java is in danger of becoming extinct. That's what the company's lawyers said in a filing to uphold the order a federal judge in Baltimore last month gave Microsoft Corp. to ship every copy of Windows with runtime Java.

'What boneheads,' the furry one mused. From where he sits, Java doesn't seem to be in much trouble'at least not on the server end. But that isn't because of anything Sun has done. If Java were still solely in Sun's domain, it would already have gone the way of the dodo.

Nope, if the language is doing all right, it's thanks to other companies that sell Java enterprise software. Sun's legal laments are as self-serving as the ratlings' birthday gift to Dad: Star Wars Bounty Hunter for the Nintendo GameCube.

Sure, these are the games that technology companies play. But the whiskered one couldn't help wondering whether Sun isn't just a little worried that some of its customers might take the whining seriously.

Java is endangered on desktop systems'except for machines running Mac OS X. But that's as much Sun's fault as Microsoft's. Thanks to changes in the code base and mixed messages about its future'remember Sun chairman Scott McNealy saying, 'Software is just a feature'?'Java on the client is pushing up daisies, gone to Valhalla and so on.

Sun all but conceded the desktop to Microsoft, saying that Web pages would be the way users would interact with Java and urging developers to write JavaServer Pages and Java servlets. Developers did, and thousands of Web applications were born.

'It's the dominant paradigm thingy now,' the cyberrodent ranted to his wife. 'It's more pervasive than Russian mail-order-bride spam.'

But then McNealy changed his mind again and started pursuing the desktop territory. Maybe it was because Sun had almost managed to forfeit the enterprise Java world to IBM Corp. and BEA Systems Inc.

Whatever. The Rat can't squeeze out a tear for Sun anymore. It has bigger problems than Java on Windows'such as Linux on Intel. The big IT vendors, including Sun at metaphorical gunpoint, are all lining up their Linux enterprise offerings.

Sun even bundled SunOne Java application server software with its Solaris operating system, which lit a fire under BEA to get a Linux version of its own Web app server out the door.

'If Sun is a dinosaur,' the Rat's eldest asked, 'then what's Linux, evolutionarily speaking?'
'Something smaller, more flexible and warmer-blooded,' Dad replied. 'More like a rodent than a penguin.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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