Rich Green's Tech Days Keynote St. Petersburg: Creating the Next Big Thing

Rich Green's keynote session to a large and lively audience of thousands that reached into the bleachers of the Sport Complex Yubileynity, a hockey stadium in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, provided a concise overview locating Sun's software strategy within a larger framework of accelerating change. Green also gave some hints of what’s coming up at the 2008 JavaOne Conference. His presence here, as Sun’s executive VP for software, expresses Sun’s respect for Russian developers, who are highly regarded and growing in number. Green’s history as a developer, as the head of Solaris and then Java at Sun, make him especially well suited to lead Sun's software division.
He pointed out that this is Tech Days' third year in Russia and the second successive year in St Petersburg after an earlier one in Moscow. He repeated the JavaOne mantra: "Sleep is optional." His keynote made me feel that Sun has been turning into a community organizer of developers, motivating, inspiring and providing the tools for them to do great things. I find it agreeable -- Sun's self-interest is tied to the self-interest of open-source developers and the continuing proliferation of information technology and the web.
Green emphasized the value of face-to-face personal interactions -- obviously Tech Days is about more than conveying information. In terms of technical content, what Tech Days conveys could, for the most part, be done over the web. Maybe the real point of it is to inspire a sense of connection, and out of connection even a sense of loyalty. Do we really know that learning about software face to face adds anything to learning about it via the web? (Some of the youngest attendees I got to talk to, despite their age and all the social networking possibilities that they've had a hand in creating, nevertheless felt that there's still no substitute sometimes for the old face to face.)
Green characterized Russian developers as among the world's elite, a description I've heard elsewhere. The developer economy has shown 66% year-over-year growth -- he did not elaborate precisely how this figure was arrived at. It's clearly a great opportunity for Sun. Russia is entering the early stages of an enormous web-powered economy. I can remember 12 years ago hearing people say very dubious things about the future of the Russian economy; now it's taking off.
He contrasted a traditional model of development with a new one. I've heard many versions of the "traditional versus new" model articulated by leaders at Sun -- what strikes me is how quickly the story changes. The traditional pre-web model, which is still prevalent in many businesses, emphasizes the need to create new, heavy technology, all of which is for sale. This model is desktop-centric and the cycle times are long.
This is fast evolving into a world in which cycle times are immediate and iterative, and distribution occurs through software clouds and downloads. There may not be any purchasing of software per se; if there is, time to market is fast. Monetization is more through ads, subscriptions and services; application types are in the form of scripting, mashups and distributions. Conversation is two-way and community centered. And, I would add, listening -- in the deepest sense of paying close attention -- becomes crucial. It's clear that one of Sun's challenges is to "hear" what's happening outside of Sun in the world of software, especially open source software, and find the sweet spots where Sun can plug in. Obviously, the web has changed everything.
The heart of Green's talk and his appeal to Russian developers centered around one comment where he emphasized that, while web participation may have opened up vast markets for developers, the availability of free, sophisticated open source software has catalyzed innovation:
"The rate of acceleration is not only a function of the number of people who are participating on the web right now," said Green. "It's also a function of the sophistication of the platforms that you as developers can use to rapidly build new applications. And that is all about open source. The rate at which new technology is becoming available to everyone for free in open-source form, with richer and richer stacks of technology available, means the amount of invention that is required to create your next startup, your next big business, your next great idea, is becoming less and less."
The more things change, the more things stay the same. The rapidity of change in the last 10 years writing for makes my head spin -- but there is something basic about Sun that does not change. I vividly remember hearing Bill Joy remark in the early days of Java how, wherever you are, the smartest people are always someplace else. Java's "write once, run anywhere" interoperability enabled it to take advantage of other people’s brains. Now Sun's open-source philosophy takes this to a new level and encourages developers to do the same.
He predicted that in the future we will see even faster acceleration of software development because the open-source community provides so much to work with and build on. He implied that we will see more and more "next big things" and challenged Russian developers to create them through taking advantage of Sun’s open source offerings. If Russia's developer economy is growing at 66% year over year, it must be a great time to be a Russian developer. Developing is basically about logic and Russia has the greatest chess culture in the world. Chess is all about logic.
The rest of his talk, Green spotlighted various Sun technologies and strongly encouraged developers to download and play with them, join their communities, and create something new. I discuss some below.
He called GlassFish one of the most popular community projects in the world, with seven million downloads since July '06. He described GlassFish as "a brilliant piece of technology fundamentally designed to build high performance, highly reliable server-side applications without having to deal with the complexities of reliability, availability, access, and I/O that you typically had to do in a very manual and intensive form."
Green intimated that in a couple of months (JavaOne?) GlassFish will be appropriate for telecom applications using new presence protocols and capabilities. Sun has taken another look at the core of GlassFish and realized it offers a viable abstraction layer for a wider variety of applications that includes the telecom industry where mobile and connected developers can “build the next big thing”.
The Changing Nature of Java
Green reminded us that Java is on 700-800 million desktops, two to three billion mobile handsets, and there are three billion Java cards in the world. I can remember the days in the mid to late 90s when I was tasked with writing stories that were supposed to dazzle readers with what Java could do -- things like organize orders and financial transactions for a flower company. Stop the world, I want to get off! How fast things change is a true cliché.
At the 2008 JavaOne conference, look for more Java structuring to focus on rich media consumer and web apps, to facilitate rapid creation of technologies, and to be a better host of scripting languages. The distinction between the Java language and Java virtual machine has grown clearer as Sun has aggressively been teasing them apart, or encouraging others to do so. Scripting technologies need a runtime platform to efficiently execute on a system, which is complicated business. So Sun is making the JVM more available to scripting languages.
Green emphasized that the Java platform in the future should be thought of as a uniform platform across a wide variety of technologies. He talked about how the advent of Nokia E61 and the Apple iPhone, following Moore's Law, means that the same technology can now be run on desktops and mobile devices. So look for the desktop version of Java to be re-implemented onto mobile devices.
Rich pointed out that MySQL, recently acquired by Sun, is the fastest growing open source database in the world and has about 70% market share of all open-source databases. It's present in every web-facing deployment in the world. Their number one platform is Linux, number two is Windows, and number three is Solaris. Green was clear that Sun will keep the same set of priorities going forward. Sun will call upon its database experts to work with the MySQL team to build faster, more scalable and reliable implementations.
Virtualization, according to Green, is a "hot topic across the planet." The appeal to developers is that it enables them to "be able to run multiple instances of operating systems so that you can use your laptop to mirror the environment that you will be deploying to." Developers face the challenge of developing on one operating system and deploying on another. Virtualization enables the environment they are running on their laptop to be identical to the deployment environment you are running on the server environment. Sun's acquisition of the German company Innotek, with their VirtualBox technology, addresses this need.
NetBeans 6.0.1
Rich closed with an update on NetBeans 6.0.1 which, among other things, offers enhancements to support Ruby and other scripting languages.
His talk reiterated in several different ways the point that not only is the network the computer, but the developer is the community. With so much software freely available, innovation should flourish. His talk was a challenge to Russian developers to take advantage of what's out there.
Learn more about Sun Tech Days.
Janice J. Heiss

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