Picture this boxing match:
"In this corner, we have reigning champeen Larry Ellison, one of the world's most-competitive individuals whose hyperdriven personality has created the largest business-software company in the world, won the America's Cup, created enormous influence across the globe, and generated staggering wealth.
"And in the other corner, we have brilliant challenger James Gosling, who led the creation of the magnificent Java software product and is now designing T-shirts to try to convince the champion to change his mind."
But wait a minute, wait a minute—that's not fair, because I've seriously short-changed the challenger. In addition to the T-shirts that are at the center of his battle plan, Gosling is also offering coffee mugs, pin-on buttons, and refrigerator magnets bearing the same slogans as the T-shirts.
And not just any slogans—these are guaranteed to be even more menacing than face-to-face staredowns. Slogans like "Java" and "Just Free It" and "We're Long Past 1984."
Those slogans, Gosling said, will "let Larry know you care".
Yes, indeedy: Ali-Frazier was the Thrilla In Manilla, and this is one's gonna be Nitroglicero In San Francicero. . . .
I don't know James Gosling, but in reading the exchanges he's had with commenters to his blog post announcing his T-shirt battle plan, he comes across as sincere, smart, friendly, and not at all full of himself. Seems like a great guy, and one you'd want very much to connect with during Oracle Open World as he promises to "cruise the disreputable bars in the neighborhood looking for interesting parties" (second comment in thread).
And as for his Java creation, well, that secures for Gosling a place among the most-influential developers the enterprise-software era will ever know.
But his T-shirt campaign is simply silly. Worse yet, it's counterproductive. And here's why:
It's silly and counterproductive because it trivializes an argument that I don't support but that I nevertheless feel is important for the tech community to have: what is the proper way to care and feed open-source technologies controlled by a for-profit corporation?
It's silly and counterproductive because it reduces to cultish slogans an issue that—as Gosling understands 1,000 times better than I could ever hope to—is profoundly important for not just Java but the entire and vast open-source community.
It's silly and counterproductive because it represents a detached, distant, and sophomoric response to an immediate and very serious issue. That's reflected in the blog-comment noted above where Gosling, asked if he'll be attending JavaOne, replies, "I won't be officially attending, but I'll probably cruise the disreputable bars in the neighborhood looking for interesting parties." And that implies that he's not really serious about getting into the fight and taking it seriously, but would rather stay well out on the fringe, knocking back a few in disreputable bars while peddling sloganeered refrigerator magnets.
And it's silly and counterproductive because it gives his opponent—that would be Larry Ellison—cause to hold Gosling's "protest" up as the sum total of the opposition's intellectual argument against Oracle's unfolding position on Java. It presents the opposition as detached, unserious, and unengaged slackers.
And it's silly and counterproductive because it portrays them as losers—way before the opening bell's been rung.
If Gosling or anyone else is surprised by what Ellison and Oracle are doing with Java, then they're simply not paying attention. More than four years ago, Ellison made his position on open-source software unmistakably clear to the world via this comment during an interview with the Financial Times:
"FT: Is open source going to be disruptive to Oracle?
"LE: No. If an open source product gets good enough, we'll simply take it. Take [the web server software] Apache: once Apache got better than our own web server, we threw it away and took Apache. So the great thing about open source is nobody owns it – a company like Oracle is free to take it for nothing, include it in our products and charge for support, and that's what we'll do. So it is not disruptive at all – you have to find places to add value. Once open source gets good enough, competing with it would be insane. Keep in mind it's not that good in most places yet. We're a big supporter of Linux. At some point we may embed Linux in all of our products and provide support.
"Just like software-as-a-service, we have to be good at it. We don't have to fight open source, we have to exploit open source. At some point we could very well choose to have Linux as part of the Oracle database server. We certify it, we test it. We could have JBoss as part of our middleware. It costs us nothing. We can do that, IBM can do that, HP can do that – anyone with a large support organisation is free to take that intellectual property and embed it in their own products.
"I've had this discussion with the CEOs of open source companies. We've looked at buying some, some with very high price tags – but since we already have access to all the intellectual property, why wouldn't we just embed this technology in our technology and provide support."
I wish Gosling had applied his massive intellect to finding a way to exploit that open-source strategy of Ellison's in a way that secures or strengthens the open-source movement while also respecting the rights of corporations to exercise their legal rights over IP they control.
How would he have done that? I certainly don't know the answer to that—but if anyone does, it could very well be the guy widely known as Java's father.
But, instead, Gosling chose to stay outside of or above the fray, and design trivial T-shirts and refrigerator magnets that make him and his case—or his cause—look like unserious amateurs. And that's too bad.
Because it guarantees a TKO before the opening bell was even rung.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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