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Will the Sun Cuts Run Too Deep?

01.26.2009
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I'm sure that most Java developers have caught wind of the news that Sun will be cutting 1,300 jobs. The unexpected part of the story however is that this includes layoffs in the OpenJDK and JavaSE sections. While this might be necessary to keep Sun going, it doesn't look too good for the future of the Java language.

On Friday the blogs.sun.com page was pretty full with news of the employees being victims of the RiF (Reduction in Workforce). It's never nice to see, and I wish the best of luck to all those who are affected by this.

Following Microsoft's announcements from last week that they will be cutting up to 5,000 jobs, it looks like the software industry isn't immune to the current economic trends. Until now I had a strong belief that the software and IT sectors could survive the current bad times. I guess that was  a bit too optimistic, there always has to be casualties in these circumstances.

One thing I still believe is that this could be a good time for innovation. As a developer innovation makes you more valuable. As a company maybe now is the time for taking a risk in new approaches or product innovation?  

I would be interested to hear your opinions on the Sun cuts, and to find if this a widespread trend among other companies that might not have made the global news?

References
Reference: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/23/sun_first_cuts/

Comments

Jacek Furmankiewicz replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 8:06am

Well, it makes one question obvious: why did they waste so many resources on JavaFX instead of properly investing in enhancing Java?

A few precise enhancements to Java (Scenegraph, Properties with easy data binding, with {} construct, etc) and you would not have needed a new language.

 

Jeroen Wenting replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 8:17am

All those "improvements" you mention are pretty much useless to the vast majority of users, and IMO close data binding can actually be detrimental (there's a reason people for years have been moving away from direct JDBC code (which is effectively embedded SQL)), and it's not the syntax).

The reason to launch JavaFX was a too-little-too-late response to Flex and Silverlight, a typical Sun "XXX has it therefore we must have it too kneejerk reaction, no different from things like including full http stacks, SOAP stacks, and database engines in the JDK and JRE.

Sun can do a lot with less, if they change that attitude and get back at what they're traditionally good at, delivering solid product that may not have many frills and bling-bling but actually work.

Jacek Furmankiewicz replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 8:59am in response to: Jeroen Wenting

I strongly disagree. Powerful data binding is the core of any productive UI development. Beans Binding (JSR 295) unfortunately is lacking in this respect a lot, mostly due to the limitations of the JavaBeans specs and the lack of truly bindable properties in Java.

phil swenson replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:09am in response to: Jacek Furmankiewicz

I agree with Jacek that the Java Fx features are hugely useful.  When I went from Delphi to Java 10 years ago I was very surprised at the awkwardness of Java for UIs due to a lack of language features (event binding, properties).

 However, JavaFx was designed to be very clean for UI developers.  Java is not the cleanest of languages with primitives, crippled arrays, etc.  I think that sun wanted a very nice language interface to compete with Flash/Flex - so they needed a clean slate.

I personally much prefer the JavaFx language to Java now.  To me it's (mostly) what Java SHOULD be (literal lists, powerful arrays, events, closures, no primitives).

 

 

Jacek Furmankiewicz replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:19am in response to: phil swenson

Maybe...that's up for discussion.

The issue is that Sun has barely enough resources to keep one language up to speed with its competition, let alone two.

You can do one thing well, or two things poorly. So, instead of banking on Java now they are faced with the task of maintaining both Java and JavaFX, at times when their resources are getting depleted with every round of layoffs.

From a business perspective, creating javaFX never made any sense. Sun simply does not have the manpower any more to create a language that could get enough mass adoption as Java.

So, as a result we've lost a year's worth of enhancements to Java and we will get a crippled Java 7 without any of the features people were asking for.

 

Bharath Ravi Kumar replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:45am

It's quite naive and pea-brained to infer that a few cuts in the Java SE division would spell doom for the Java language. Enough said.

phil swenson replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:46am in response to: Jacek Furmankiewicz

I have no idea of the internals of Sun.  They have 1000s of employees, so it's hard to say that Java isn't being updated because of JavaFx. 

 I think that Java's slow feature adoption is more a function of the inherent slowness of the JCP (aka "design by committee"), having to be super conservative with Java because of such wide-spread adoption,  and having to maintain backwards compatibility.

 JavaFx is much easier because they don't have to worry about any of those issues.  I'd bet that JavaFx was implemented by a very small team.

 I'd love to hear from someone inside sun on this, because we are all just speculating 

Jacek Furmankiewicz replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:55am in response to: phil swenson

I recall quite clearly a recent blog from a Sun employee who stated openly that they would have been releasing Java 7 now if not for the delay caused by resources moved to JavaFX and the new 6u10 (which arguably was actually a good investment in the long term).

Honey Monster replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 12:07pm

The cuts have hit the JavaSE sections. But perhaps more important is the fact that they were targeted at all. Sun is primarily a hardware vendor. They make the vast majority of their profits selling expensive boxes. Customers buy them because of percieved quality and because of Solaris. Java and open source are not making money for Sun. In fact they are big drains on their financials, not least MySQL which really never had a chance of becoming profitable in its own right.

Now we are faced with a economic crisis. Customers who don't need to pay (for open source) will simply not pay. Sun has been hit by this at the worst possible time in their attempted transition to "open source software company".

I think what we are seeing is investor pressure to cut down on the unprofitable parts of Suns business. If that is so, expect more to come. The "open sourcing" of Sun will be put on hold. Swartz will have to respect investors and shareholders demand for short-time profitability. Don't be surprised to see Java sold off to one of the companies which have heavy investment in Java (IBM, Oracle).

Guido Amabili replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 12:13pm in response to: phil swenson

I fully agree  here with your comment!

 Although I didn't yet play with JavaFx only because I have right now to much work and a life beside,  I like everything they did so far! (language design, tools, etc....)

I really like javafx's syntax and features. I recently had to to develop an ajaxish intranet site with a json javascript library and I feel now really comfortable with the "json" like syntax of javafx.

Add to that the open source Inkscape plugin..... 

JavaFx's goal is to enable us Java Developer to implement effectively UIs ....(with or with gfx designer ;-)

We already have Java, Groovy, Scala, Jython running on the JVM.........

Why not JavaFX to design and develop  "connected ui applications" ? (See, I do not restrict JavaFx to RIAs .....)

Is everything coming from Sun wrong ?

I think JavaFx is a jewel that will really benefit to Sun, despite we still do not have a Linux version and FXTextField... 

Why do you think that on each JavaFx link appearing here on DZone you have some Ad from the Flex camp ?????????

 

/GuidoLx

 

 

 

Richard Osbaldeston replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 12:38pm in response to: phil swenson

But the team working on Java itself is quite small 100s rather than 1000s. Plus there was a spell of senior developers leaving the client side team last year, so further losses really won't help. I too wondered why JDK7 had slipped, it seems JavaFX readiness is the major culprit.

What I'd like to see is some openness over the loses. Sun isn't alone here Microsoft are shedding jobs as are Adobe. But at least Abode appear disseminate the news to their developers much better: http://tr.im/adobechanges Note the huge difference in the tone of the replies. Someone from Sun posts and he practically gets death treats. No wonder they keep low profiles.

Beansbindings keeps getting trotted out as it's the most blatant victim of the changes. After the loss of Scott, Shannon had to take over, who was then seconded into the JavaFX team to a degree that prevented any progress on JSR295 (?) and then left. What annoyed myself over the whole issue was repeated assurances from Sun (aim & rbair) that both JSRs where important to Sun and both being actively developed, all the while desperately trying to keep Shannons departure quiet (practically felt I had to sign a NDA when I found out). Heard several times they were actively seeking a new maintainer - only to hear (by omission) via Devoxx in December it'd been dropped from the JDK7 roadmap. Not that any of this made it to the JSR295 mailing lists where I had to push for some kind of confirmation and we're still waiting to hear what the future is for this JSR. 'suze me for feeling angry and lied to.

Not that it's the only victim, the improved date/time calendar api JSR-310 is also suffering slippages, apparently without any support from Sun and it appears likely not to make JDK7.0 unless something changes soon. Even the JCP/JSR process seems to be failing, Jigsaw and JavaFX seem to be closed shops to the public. Even when they do apparently open up development scenegraph, nimbus on java.net - what you'll find is code that hasn't been updated in a year or so and dont get me started on the unanswered licensing issues surrounding around Scenario, JavaFX, JWebPane etc..

Aren't you really happy they open sourced Java. Do you feel these are the signs of a well company..? How much of the farm are they really betting on the JavaFX experiment? If all it ever achieves is the same kind of market penetration Swing currently has will that be a success or not? or do they *have* to beat Abode & Microsoft. When you see products like Adobes Catalyst/Thermo you realise JavaFX still has a very long road ahead of it.. how deep are Suns pockets is a fair question.

I you're making cuts why not outsource the creation of demos and the slides for the major conferences. Let the developers actually spend some time developing (or documenting - also good).

JeffS replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 1:01pm

It's been my understanding, by looking at Sun's public financials, that Sun's Java division unto itself is profitable and growing.  Same goes with the rest of their software stack.

 Where Sun has been taking a hit is their hardware business, which accounts for the vast majority of their revenue (in the billions as opposed to the millions for software).  And most of Sun's hardware mostly appeals to the very high end, big iron stuff, which is an enver shrinking market.  Add to that the fact that a large portion of that business has been leveraged in the financial market, which as we all know is completely in the toilet.

 The problem is that the Java and other software business, however healthy it might be, can't come close to offsetting the huge hit Sun continues to get on it's hardware business.

 All that said, I do believe that Sun is spread too thin, and simply can't keep up with competitors, on the Jaava/RIA front.  

I also believe that, due to it's shrinking big iron boxes business, with little positive prospects, Sun is going to be carved up.

 And that might be a good thing for the Java community.  Sun has been struggling since the Dot Com bust and the advent of cheap intel boxes running Linux.  For about 8 years now, Sun has been slowly dying (quite frankly), and tends to be an albatross (at least image wise) for Java.

Ideally, I'd like to see Sun's Java division (along with Glassfish and Netbeans development) go one of two directions:

1.  Spinned off as a foundation, a la Mozilla, Eclipse, the Linux kernel, or Apache, which is kept going by donations, or selling JCK.

2.  Sold off to Oracle or IBM or Google, all of whom have the resources to maintain Java and push it forward.

Richard Osbaldeston replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 1:16pm in response to: JeffS

>It's been my understanding, by looking at Sun's public financials, that Sun's Java >division unto itself is profitable and growing. Same goes with the rest of their >software stack.

Hence our surprise at the explicit mention of layoffs in the Java divisions: "Among those gone are brains who worked on the OpenJDK, desktop Java, and the Java 2 Standard Edition (JavaSE) interface." ..although what that actually means is anybodies guess (from outside Sun).

phil swenson replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 2:13pm

a couple other points on this.  they might have just cut under-performers.  and small teams tend to work better than large teams anyway.  the key is not the number of resources, it's the quality.

The C# team is quite small.  Used to be less than 10 people, not sure now, but I guarantee it's a lot smaller than the Java team.

Jacek Furmankiewicz replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 2:15pm in response to: phil swenson

Not so sure, this is the case, see

http://blogs.sun.com/branajam/entry/january_2009_update

  • Layoffs.
  • The first round of announced layoffs took place on January 22. I lost a lot of my colleagues, I will miss some of them tremendously. Some key areas were affected, and I'm still trying to figure out how to go forward in these areas.

Looks like a lot of key players were hit.

 

phil swenson replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 2:41pm in response to: Jacek Furmankiewicz

yeah, sounds like it.  well sun is a company that hires 1000s and lays off 1000s on a regular basis.  which I've never understood.... so assuming they know what they are doing is probably giving them too much credit.

RIchard replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 3:37pm in response to: phil swenson

well, I also came from Delphi but about 4 years ago (I was a lone Borland holdout :) ). I hope I'm not that guy here :) but I think JFX is weak man. Seriously its not going to get traction, as its so limited in scope (Browser and quazi desktop apps, that Java could also have done if it were re-aranged). They should have made a big push to update J2SE maybe even forked it. The bottom line ( IMHO ) was that Java FX simply wasnt the anwser that Sun was looking for. At this point I'm just hoping that Sun gets aquired by Google or IBM and not HP or ( gulp ) MS

JeffS replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 5:37pm in response to: RIchard

[quote=igf1]well, I also came from Delphi but about 4 years ago (I was a lone Borland holdout :) ). I hope I'm not that guy here :) but I think JFX is weak man. Seriously its not going to get traction, as its so limited in scope (Browser and quazi desktop apps, that Java could also have done if it were re-aranged). They should have made a big push to update J2SE maybe even forked it. The bottom line ( IMHO ) was that Java FX simply wasnt the anwser that Sun was looking for. At this point I'm just hoping that Sun gets aquired by Google or IBM and not HP or ( gulp ) MS [/quote]

Sun won't get acquired in it's entirety - it will cost too much, have too much bagage, have too much of a portfolio that has shrinking market, and credit (usually a requirement for acquisition) is scarce right now.

But what might happen is Sun get's carved up - I could see the server/sparc division being sold off to Fujitsu (Fujitsu has long been rumored to acquire all of Sun), as Fujitsu is a Sun customer, uses Sparc, and is looking for more of a presence in North America.  Then I could see the Java division sold off to IBM, Oracle, or Google.  MySQL could be sold off to Red Hat (or maybe even Oracle).  Storage would go to HP or IBM or Dell.  And so on ...

Sun's investors stand to gain much more from pieces of Sun being sold separately than one big sale of the company.

Nevertheless, I see Sun's days, in it's current form as a free standing company, as being very limited, unless they're able to pull of some major victories and gain some serious market share (and do so very quickly).  But the outlook for any gains right now is bleak.

But from the Java developer perspective, that day can't happen soon enough, even though Sun has put in great engineering and has done a great job of keeping Java cross platform and standardized.  The thing is, Sun's 8 yr oddysey in the financial abyss ends up being a big weight around Java's neck.  Java as an independent foundation, or acquired by a deeper pocketed player, stands to get a big breath of fresh air.

Java developers tend to be saddled with "Sun is struggling" angst.  It would be nice to be rid of all that.

Michael Urban replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 5:46pm

The future of Java is very secure now that it is GPL. And it won't be going away any time soon. It's still the most popular language on Sourceforge, and the most in demand technology skill on dice.com. It's nearly twice as popular as C++, twice as popular as C# /.Net, 7 times more popular than PHP, and almost 20 times more popular than Ruby.

Once again, it seems the rumors of Java's impending doom are greatly exaggerated.. Java is not going anywhere, even if Sun disappears. Too many people use and rely on Java.

JeffS replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 7:49pm in response to: Michael Urban

[quote=murban]

The future of Java is very secure now that it is GPL. And it won't be going away any time soon. It's still the most popular language on Sourceforge, and the most in demand technology skill on dice.com. It's nearly twice as popular as C++, twice as popular as C# /.Net, 7 times more popular than PHP, and almost 20 times more popular than Ruby.

Once again, it seems the rumors of Java's impending doom are greatly exaggerated.. Java is not going anywhere, even if Sun disappears. Too many people use and rely on Java.

[/quote]

 

Java itself is spectacurily healthy.  But Sun is not, and Sun controls the JCP, JCKs, and has heavy influence (and ultimate control) over the direction of Java.  And yes it's true that if Sun disappears, Java will still be in great shape.  Even better shape, possibly, due to the albatross effect Sun's financial woes have on the image of Java, and giving Java developers "Sun is struggling" angst. ;-)

Ryan Developer replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:59pm

You guys are such pessimists.  Nothing Sun does will ever please you.  There are a lot of people who see everything Sun does in a biased negative light, and who assume that most people share their vocal minority views.  I'm a Sun shareholder and splitting up the company is the *last* thing I want to see.  I think that Wall St. undervalues Sun's assets.  Wall St. is full of sh*t, deceipt, lies, and caused a global recession. I think everything Sun has been working on is outstanding. The changes to Java 6u10 were necessary, JavaFX is necessary for the scads of developers who don't want to leave Java just for RIA, JavaFX Mobile is a necessary evolution and will eliminate device fragmentation, NetBeans has surpassed even the harshest critics' expectations, GlassFish V3 will be the new Tomcat, Java EE 6 will be a rebirth, etc. 

The Java Possee was talking about how now more than ever Sun has a laser sharp focus and will be pushing innovation out faster than anyone expects.  I heard from someone involved in JSF 2.0 that future revisions will come out a lot faster than they ever did before.  I read that the JCP executive committe is planning major changes with respect to openess and visibility.  The thought of abandoning the JCP in favor of a new foundation that does exactly the same but with different policies is rediculous!  First, the JCP is not Sun (http://www.jcp.org/en/participation/committee.) I blame IBM, Oracle, Apache, and anyone else involved at the top level just as much as Sun for the JCP's lack of openess.  All they need to do is modernize their procedures by increasing visibility to, and interaction with, the public. That is exactly what they are working on right now. 

These are tough times for everyone, not just Sun.  Sun has a plan:  www.sun.com/aboutsun/pr/2008-11/sunflash.20081114.1.xml  Be thankful for what they have given us, and give them a break.

Michael Urban replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 9:30pm in response to: JeffS

Sun and Java are ultimately, totally disconnected now though as far as the survival of Java is concerned. So what if Sun goes away? So what if the JCP goes away? Java will still survive and evolve. Tons of of other open source languages have managed to do so that never had anywhere near the popularity of Java.. Java will survive, evolve, and thrive. Even if Sun does not.

Jeroen Wenting replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 2:03am

Slow and deliberate change is a massive plus for a language. It prevents (or should) idiotic design decisions that in the long term harm it but have a high WOW factor (like closures...).

Of course that WOW factor has for some time now been a major influence in the JCP, in part because the JCP is highly marketing driven (driven by a desire to increase language adoption rather than provide what's good for the growth of the language and the people already using it), in part because so many people have a say in it who see changing the language not as a means to improve the language but as a means to get a JSR under their supervision (and thus have their moment of glory on the conference circuit, dreaming of mega-bucks from speaking fees and bookdeals).

I'm all for slowing that down. Having a decade+ release cycle hasn't slowed C++ down, certainly hasn't caused its demise. In fact it very likely is in large part responsible for its continued success.
Meanwhile, fast and furious languages that bring a new release every few weeks crash and burn all the time because noone can ever be sure if what they write today will still work tomorrow, capabilities are added (and sometimes removed when they loose their "kewlness factor" or contradict with some maintainer's idea-du-jour) willy nilly, without any thought except what's "kewl" and hyped today.

Bharath Ravi Kumar replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 4:31am in response to: Jeroen Wenting

Very very well said. Couldn't agree more. Words of real wisdom there.

Jason Kilgrow replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 8:53am in response to: Bharath Ravi Kumar

 is I agree with Kumar. It is the development community not the tool provider that determines the survival of the tool. There is a strong java community. I believe java will survive this. The market was at least this bad in 2001 and java came through just fine.

phil swenson replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 10:32am in response to: Jeroen Wenting

"

Jeroen Wenting replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 3:03am

Slow and deliberate change is a massive plus for a language. It prevents (or should) idiotic design decisions that in the long term harm it but have a high WOW factor (like closures...)."

 Sounds like an excuse for mediocrity to me.

Get the right people making the decisions/design and it doesn't have to be slow.  And closures are hardly new or "kewl", they've existed in other languages for decades.

 One thing everyone seems to forget, you don't have to upgrade to the latest and greatest.  If Java 7 comes out and you are happy with Java 5 either just run your Java 5 code on the Java 7 JVM or stick with the Java 5 JVM.

 That being said, Java has some inherent cruft (like prmitives for example) that might mean making big changes would require backwards compatibility to be broken.  So maybe it's time for a clean slate with "Java.next" or whatever you want to call it.  Do maintainance/small changes on Java in parallel.  Makes the people who advocate keeping things the same and the people who want a better language both happy. 

JeffS replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 3:34pm in response to:

[quote=rdelaplante]

You guys are such pessimists.  Nothing Sun does will ever please you.  There are a lot of people who see everything Sun does in a biased negative light, and who assume that most people share their vocal minority views.  I'm a Sun shareholder and splitting up the company is the *last* thing I want to see.  I think that Wall St. undervalues Sun's assets.  Wall St. is full of sh*t, deceipt, lies, and caused a global recession. I think everything Sun has been working on is outstanding. The changes to Java 6u10 were necessary, JavaFX is necessary for the scads of developers who don't want to leave Java just for RIA, JavaFX Mobile is a necessary evolution and will eliminate device fragmentation, NetBeans has surpassed even the harshest critics' expectations, GlassFish V3 will be the new Tomcat, Java EE 6 will be a rebirth, etc. 

The Java Possee was talking about how now more than ever Sun has a laser sharp focus and will be pushing innovation out faster than anyone expects.  I heard from someone involved in JSF 2.0 that future revisions will come out a lot faster than they ever did before.  I read that the JCP executive committe is planning major changes with respect to openess and visibility.  The thought of abandoning the JCP in favor of a new foundation that does exactly the same but with different policies is rediculous!  First, the JCP is not Sun (http://www.jcp.org/en/participation/committee.) I blame IBM, Oracle, Apache, and anyone else involved at the top level just as much as Sun for the JCP's lack of openess.  All they need to do is modernize their procedures by increasing visibility to, and interaction with, the public. That is exactly what they are working on right now. 

These are tough times for everyone, not just Sun.  Sun has a plan:  www.sun.com/aboutsun/pr/2008-11/sunflash.20081114.1.xml  Be thankful for what they have given us, and give them a break.

[/quote]

 

I contragulate and applaud your optimism.  I sincerely hope you're right.

I think Sun can pull out of this if they do the following:

1.  On the software side, they offer the complete stack, from database, middleware, web, desktop, RIA, and devices.  If they can more greatly monetize that, and tie it in with services, they can have a bright future.  This side of the equation has already shown growth and relative good health.  Let's see if Sun can stay focussed and execute.

2.  On the Hardware side, Sun has a great story in both storage (an actual growth market, and an always needed technology) with their new flash based appliance.  They just need to execute on it.  Sun also has great "green tech" offerings, and again, if they can execute, they'll do well.  They got great products for big iron, but that is a shrinking market.  They probably need to expand the low end (which I believe they've doing) and more fully embrace Linux (Solaris is great for big iron, but is mostly ignored for everything else).

RIchard replied on Tue, 2009/01/27 - 5:50pm in response to: JeffS

"Java as an independent foundation, or acquired by a deeper pocketed player, stands to get a big breath of fresh air."

 @JeffS

I cant agree more, I would particularly like to see a company that knows how to leverage and enthuse the OSS community. For example, Java should have had a compile to native option long ago. it would have been fairly easy for their engineers and companies like Excelsior have had massive success in providing this... I dont know what to say, you hit the nail on the head.

 

This is a sample of what develoers think about Java, most of these people have obviously not used java in this century.

http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.728316.41

Jeroen Wenting replied on Wed, 2009/01/28 - 1:10am

So you base your ideas about what should happen to Java on the opinions of people who never used anything newer than 1.1 (and many who never used it at all, just repeat the old party line that "Java is slow") rather than the opinions of people who actually use it every day to earn a living?

You're making the same mistake Sun (and the JCP) does, trying to wow those who have a vested interest in NOT seeing Java succeed in suddenly seeing the Light Of Sun and convertin en masse to the true religion of the Church Of Java.
Ain't gonna happen.

Franz Wong replied on Wed, 2009/01/28 - 6:59am

No matter acquisition an existing software product or create a new java feature, Sun always does not plan for action afterward. It just goes away and focuses other issues. I would say java is separated instead of a platform.

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