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Is IBM on a Strategic Path to Control Java? 285

Posted by timothy
from the chin-scrathing-speculation dept.
nightspd writes "David Berlind of Cnet has written a series of articles over at ZDNet about IBM's return to market dominance, including this one titled When Will IBM Buy Sun? It's a VERY interesting read and a very interesting predition, and poses a question. With the mega-merger of Compaq and Hewlett-Packard going forward, can we expect other possible mega-mergers down the line in the tech arena? Is a IBM buyout of Sun possible and/or viable?"
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Is IBM on a Strategic Path to Control Java?

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  • by pfb (201727) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @09:49AM (#3315880)
    Big Blue's first profit warning since what 1991? Bah this isn't gonna stop them just make sure they are careful about their accounting...

    ribbit
  • by DeadBugs (546475) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @09:51AM (#3315901) Homepage
    For those who have not already checked it out, IBM's little tank simulation program for teaching java, RoboCode [ibm.com] has hit version 1.0
  • Oil & Water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trix_e (202696) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @09:54AM (#3315931)
    There would be a *huge* culture clash trying to combine these two companies... much more than ever will happen with HPaq.

    IBM is a long way off from all white shirts all the time days, I'd suggest that Sun is much more conservative than IBM from a business perspective these days... Sure there are pockets of IBM that are still starched *way* too much, but overall they're quite innovative and nimble.

    Sun, while it pushes Java hard, it quite a proprietary company (note that Java is not open source), and IBM on the other hand, is willing to get into about any business that it feels like it can get a foothold in, and see what works out. It's services folks are often implementing all kinds of non-IBM technologies. Sun would *never* do that.

    I don't see it working... even if IBM is the acquirer, the culture mishmash would be a disaster.

  • A Possible Outcome (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spencerian (465343) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @09:55AM (#3315934) Homepage Journal
    While I don't think Sun would martyr itself just to challenge Microsoft, it's a good possibility that IBM could try to buy more Java rights or buy the technology outright from Sun, if a merger isn't in the cards.

    Java is a innovative (and I use this term judiciously) technology which Microsoft has not been able to successfully clone, copy, or kill, yet. It is Sun's current anchor for relevancy amongst its main competitors. I can't see Sun letting go Java without a lot of compensation or litigation.
  • by CynicTheHedgehog (261139) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:03AM (#3316005) Homepage
    You seem to forget a few facts:

    • IBM is still a large contender in the server market
    • IBM has put billions into open source development, including their own implementation of the JDK, compiler, and clustered virtual machines
    • IBM favors Linux and has partnerships with SuSE and Redhat (perhaps others)
    • Oracle produces versions of their products to run on almost every platform, and uses Java in most of their client applications


    There you have it. Sun is in direct competition with IBM on three fronts (hardware, operating system, and software), and I'm sure Ellison could care less who buys his product, as long as it's selling. Obviously IBM wants some control over Java, and Sun isn't playing nicely. I'm kind of on the edge of my seat myself.
  • by nerdbert (71656) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:06AM (#3316022)
    IBM is already seriously in bed with SUN: they fab most of SUN's serious chips, including CPUs and are key to SUN's success. So IBM has a heck of a lot of visibility into SUN's future prospects and can make an educated guess on whether or not they want to acquire SUN.

    Remember Cyrix? IBM used to fab their chips and there was some speculation on whether IBM would buy them and come into the x86 market. But IBM had visibility into Cyrix's future *and* visibility into AMD's. So was it a good decision to pass on buying Cyrix? I think so.

    My point is that IBM could buy SUN if they wanted and if they thought it would be helpful to them. But my view is that IBM is deemphasizing hardware and investing in services, so it's unlikely they'll drop the cash into buying a hardware company.
  • by twocents (310492) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:09AM (#3316034)
    I just finished up reading a copy of Jim Carlton's book, Apple, and Sun was right there in the thick of things years ago, looking to possibly buy Apple on several occasions. A very well written book for those of you that like that kind of thing (not just for Apple fans!), and a book that portrayes Scott McNealy as the type that doesn't seem all too likely to sell.

  • by ergo98 (9391) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:10AM (#3316046) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft is only bigger in market capitalization : IBM is the larger company, and has been for some time. In any case obviously you're trolling as generally IBM targets a very different audience than Microsoft (computing is a massive, and very disparate, field).

    Having said that, mergers and acquisitions are hilarious, and it's a riot seeing how upper-management of very large organizations fools the public into believing that they "Create value" worth their enormous compensation packages : The market goes through a flurry of mergers and acquisitions when that fad is big, and then afterwards they turn ship and move into divestitures and spin-offs that'll "recover focus" and "capitalize on success", afterwhich they return to mergers and acquisitions. It really is laughable from a distance, but up close everyone buys it and believes it.
  • Re:Deja Vu (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sheldon (2322) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:15AM (#3316075)
    Huh?

    IBM is leading the market, and has a substantial share for several years. Remember, IBM is the Dot in .Com.

    http://serverwatch.internet.com/news/2002_03_11_ a. html

    "IDC believes that the current competition for the number one spot in the Unix market will continue, and 2001 saw a positioning shift among the top players. Fourth quarter 2001 was the first time since 4Q98 that IBM took the top spot for worldwide Unix market share. Big Blue's 26.9 market share gave it a marginal edge over Sun Microsystems' 26.8 percent. Hewlett-Packard ended the quarter close behind with 25 percent market share."
  • by FortKnox (169099) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:25AM (#3316130) Homepage Journal
    What would this mean to Java? Would the linux-loving Big Blue company open up Java? What about Tomcat and JBoss? Would IBM make WebSphere and Visual Age the ultimate in J2EE enviroments?

    It would be interesting to see how IBM would handle Java if it did buy Sun. It almost seems like it'd knock some part of open source (the Java source and the proprietary webcontainer and IDE IBM sells).
  • by IWantMoreSpamPlease (571972) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:31AM (#3316173) Homepage Journal
    The HP-Compaq merger is a disaster waiting to happen, too much overlap of services, etc etc. But I don't see a direct competition between Sun and IBM (other than in the server market) and a buyout might help both of them substantially, if done right (if done right....)

    But I'm not too about the issue, so I could be way off base here.
  • IBM vs Sun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by binaryDigit (557647) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:35AM (#3316228)
    An IBM/Sun merger just doesn't make any sense. IBM has a successful Unix division using a completely different CPU and completely different OS. If Solaris/Sparc had significant advantages OR disadvantages to AIX/Power, then maybe. Don't forget that IBM is absolutely notorious for not likeing one division canabalizing the sales from another. Heck, that's one of the factors that led to the clone market and IBM's unwillingness to innovate in the pc arena for years. So what are they going to do if then acquire Sun. Which platform do you push? What do you say to customers who are trying to buy a "IBM" solution? Nope, just a big mess.

    One could also imagine scenerios where Sun customers would jump ship, since Sun has long been viewed as the anti-IBM (young and spritely vs old and lethargic). If IBM bought Sun, how many potential Sun people would look elsewhere (read PC's w/ Windoze/Linux) specifically because they DON'T want to tie themselves to IBM.

    The Compaq/DEC merger was fine since Compaq for the most part didn't play in DEC's sandbox. The HP/Compaq merger has a chance (as far as Unix goes) since PA/RISC is moribund and so is Alpha. No such situation here though.

    Also, one would have to imagine that the govt would have a VERY close look at any such merger, since the combined companies would own over half the Unix market and the feds are always on IBM's *ss about any type of monopolistic activities.

    IBM/Sun - Just say NO.
  • by EnVisiCrypt (178985) <groovetheorist@NoSpaM.hotmail.com> on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:37AM (#3316244)
    *drool*

    I can just imagine it: A company whose products are great (not just passable or good), well integrated, works against Microsoft, and has embraced (not extended) the open source ideal.

    The dramatist in me would love to see it, if only for the epic struggle between two modern giants. But the pragmatist sees trading one monopoly for another, even if the new monopoly does have better products and some form of open-source.
  • by j09824 (572485) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:41AM (#3316281)
    I think for Java, it doesn't make much of a difference anymore who controls it. Java has mushroomed far beyond the size at which it can fulfill its original promise: a safe, simple, multi-vendor language and runtime. Instead, it has become a huge, complex system with a single, proprietary implementation (plus a bunch of systems from other vendors that rely for most of their code on Sun's implementation). I don't see how IBM could reverse this even if their intentions are good: Java2 can't shrink again, and we are stuck with the multitude of APIs that it has.

    What we want is an open language standard with a simple runtime, something that people can build on without being tied to a single company. That's the way it worked for C, and that was good. Maybe ECMA C# fits the bill, if it can establish a life independent from Microsoft. Let's hope so.

  • by MarkWatson (189759) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:41AM (#3316287) Homepage
    Hey, don't get me wrong: I do appreciate Sun and what they have done for Java (especially for sending me the free 'Java' leather jacket a few years ago!)

    That said, Sun is in the hardware business, and to a much smaller degree the services business. I think that the Java brand is worth something to Sun, but as a Sun stockholder (I also hold IBM), I don't see the Java brand as crucial to their bottom line.

    I would like to the the following things change:

    • Sun release Java to a sandards body
    • the onslought of new Java APIs should stop!
    One of the things that I like so well about Common LISP is that it is standardized and basically does not change. Java, at least on the server side, is an awesome tool, to be sure. However, I would like to see Java frozen, except for bug fixes. I find it interesting that the same guy, Guy Steele, has been so important to two languages - Java and Common Lisp. (Actually, he also wrote one of the first Scheme compilers).

    Anyway, I think that Sun and IBM should not merge in any way, and that Java should be standardized and frozen.

    -Mark

  • by hotsauce (514237) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @11:29AM (#3316721)

    There would be no advantage whatsoever for Apple in a merger with IBM or anyone else, and it would likely be counterproductive. Apple's culture is too different from the rest of the industry. And IBM has not been successful with hardware on the desktop, nor are they very interested in it.

    I understand your desire for competition to Microsoft, but another monopoly is not the answer. It is important that there are smaller companies like Apple that try different things. Computing should not be reduced to a two-party system between AIX and Windows.

  • Sun death watch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @11:31AM (#3316736)
    Clearly this is not the first to make this interesting observation. I have heard it said other places as well; IBM is on a sub death watch.

    Consider, how much of a future is there really for selling sparc boxes? Unlike Microsoft with .NET, Sun has no real way to make or reinforce core product sales thru Java. In fact, Sun as a software services company is very week, so there is no core value there either once Sparc sales take the big dive south.

    Now IBM is the one company well positioned to take advantage of Java. If they could gain control of it, they could do the one thing Sun cannot; make it into a real standard. The problem Sun faces is that, unlike Microsoft, which choose to hang their valuable trademark on the "whole" (.NET) rather than C#, Sun trademarked the language rather than Sun NetOne,

    Hence, it's painless for Microsoft to make C# a "pseudo" standard, but since Sun licensed and trandemarked on the language itself, they are stuck.

    Microsoft can use .NET to leverage itself as an application services business as well as reinforce the sales of it's .NET "client" and "server" platform, by making the language standard but not the platform. This will steel potential revenue directly from IBM.

    So IBM waits. The sparc business dies off, and it can pick up Sun for a mear $100 million or so. Very cheap. Then it can do the one thing Sun can't, and make sure Java is everywhere, that it is free, that everything has it. It doesn't need the revenue from Java licenses the way Sun does and will by then, but it needs to establish a platform not controlled by or redirecting revenue into Microsoft.

    So if Sun goes under, the world of enterprise computing might finally be free and everyone else benefits, except Microsoft. Not a bad scenareo. Hey, Scott, do you think you can do the world a favor and pull it off soon?

    Of course, if Microsoft manages to outbid IBM for the dying Sun or offer them a bridging "deal" like they did to Apple to get Java out of the marketplace, well, that is the day I leave the industry for good.

  • by oingoboingo (179159) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @12:46PM (#3317360)
    I'm not sure IBM would need to buy Sun. If they keep up the pressure in the UNIX server space the same way that they have been doing for the past 12 months or so, they might be able to eat up a substantial portion of Sun's current market.


    What will be very interesting is when (if?) IBM brings the POWER4 chip down the line from the p690. This has already happened with the p670. A 1.1GHz or 1.3GHz POWER4 chip in a low-cost, lower-end machine, like a 4 or 8 way server, would put some intense pressure on Sun and stuff like their V880.


    The Java angle is also interesting...would IBM need Sun to dominate Java? They already claim to have the largest group of Java developers in the world. They produce their own quality Java compiler and JVM. They have a highly competitive Java application server and framework, and a suite of GUI RAD tools to go with them. They have a strong database server that links in with the app server, and supports Java too. In some respects, IBM's Java position may be stronger than Sun's. Maybe.

  • IBM's business model (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bigmouth_strikes (224629) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @01:15PM (#3317583) Journal
    The comparisions to Microsoft - unavoidable in any discussion on /. it seems - are very unfair. First, as mentioned in other posts, IBM is a much larger company than Microsoft, so that alone would not be a reason to merge with/buy Sun. Second, IBM has a very different business model.

    Microsoft is a consumer product company that has been moving into the corporate world. IBM is a business product company that have tried making consumer products. In fact, apart from Lotus, IBM do not have any products directly competing with Microsoft. Microsoft is trying to get into the high-end mission critical systems, but so far they're mostly found on webservers and on PC clients.

    IBM is also a services revenue driven company, with a successful and profitable consulting organisation. IBM recently made Visual Age for Java and also Websphere Studio available for free. That is an indication that they will continue to focus on their Websphere centred approach, trying to sell and implement the large infrastructure solution with WebSphere, MQ Series etc on their own hardware.

    Back on topic, Java, that will be the platform of choice for IBM for one main reason: Microsoft won't make any money from it. IBM sell hardware and software that support the use of Java applications. Microsoft has clearly shown it want to control the runtime environment as well, but we'll see who wins that race.

  • **SCREAM** (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SkyLeach (188871) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @01:25PM (#3317702) Homepage
    Please don't ever mention Oracle obtaining Sun again.

    Oracle corporation employs programmers which know little-to-nothing nothing at all about the following concepts:

    Source Control
    Indentation/Formatting
    API
    Static Linking
    Kernels
    Filesystems
    Debugging

    Oracle is a fine database - but it would be worthless if the 5 programmers in the world who understand its source code suddenly died or contracted Alzheimers: which isn't really unlikely considering that they will be getting old long before they can explain that mess to anyone.

    Sun saw the light: their days were numbered. Eventually Linux will surpass Solaris in the one remaining area that matters: SMP. After that Sun is in biggo trouble. They are better off grabbing Linux and coaching embrasure of their hardware, Linux software and Java for platform independance. IBM buying them makes sense for IBM because IBM already plays nice with Linux. Oracle buying them will mean that Solaris will become iexorably tangled up with Java and Oracle and turn into a very very nasty mess.

    I want to see IBM buy Sun, build a kernel module JVM running at near-compiled speed, and open Java up completely.

    Now that would be sweet.
  • by cacav (567890) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @02:13PM (#3318125)
    If IBM bought Sun and folded it underneath, that would make IBM pretty much the only serious player in the mid to high-end UNIX server market. Once that happens, the anti-trust lawyers would get pretty eager again and try to take IBM to court. Especially considering that if IBM bought Sun, it would have no interest in the hardware end since IBM makes its own hardware which directly competes with Sun's products. Either Sun's hardware group would get spun back off like they did to Lexmark, or they would simply re-design them as low-end pSeries products with Power processors instead of the Sparcs. Plus, why bother to support Solaris when you make AIX?

    These lawsuits charging IBM of monopolizing a marketplace has happened before (IBM Global Services used to be a subsidiary called ISSC to help thwart anti-trust charges), and with the current Microsoft case I think others (Hitachi, Amdahl, etc.) would prob. like to get in on anti-trust lawsuits against IBM.

    Just my .02....

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