Long Tails of Sun's Analyst Summit

I'm just about fully recovered from Sun's Analyst Summit, our annual all-singing and all-dancing festival with industry and financial analysts. It's exhausting as well, with most days starting promptly at 7:00 am for a breakfast meeting (two words that shouldn't appear together; you're either eating breakfast or holding a meeting, but it's hard to eat and discuss strategy at the same time without overloading the word "waffle"). We held our software dinner with industry analysts after the opening reception, and I promised not to tell corporate risk management that 75% of the software VPs ate the same pork dinner cooked by yours truly.

All of this is prelude to the main tent and breakout events on days two and three. Each year, there seem to be one or two memes that bear repeating, either prompted by our content development or that appear in network created by routing the same analysts to parallel sessions. Four years ago it was "web services,", then "identity," and last year was taken up with "utility" discussions. This year, however, the concept was economic and not pseudo-technical standard oriented -- seemed like we kept running into long tail references.

Mark Herring and I hosted a session on building developer communities and how Sun plans to extend its reach to those communities. Of course, I seize the opportunity to draw a long tail over the current evolution of languages. First, a straw poll: Who remembers Tcl/Tk programming as a system administrator? Who knows that there are no fewer than 15 Tcl-based projects on SourceForge, providing environments for XML and http and a host of other interfaces. "Ooh, that's so last decade," you moan. Of course. That's the point. I'm betting on an abundance of scripting languages in the next few years, each solving a specific set of problems in simple, elegant fashion, and each creating a new community of enthusiasts.

The issue is whether we live in an "either/or" or a "both/and" kind of world. As my rabbi likes to point out, "either/or" tends to create conflict that sometimes leads to religious war. He's not just talking about software developers, either. Stephen O'Grady, the table-destroying third of RedMonk, captured this thread from our session pretty well.

It's the "both/and" scenario that creates a long tail. If we get more languages more quickly (hmm, Ruby, Rhino, PHP, Groovy, and a renewed interest in JavaScript enter the top 10 in the last 18 months?), and we assume that environments like Java, .Net, C++ and even COBOL aren't going away, we get a nice long tail distribution. The "big languages" live in front of the curve, the smaller, dynamic languages fill a multitude of needs under the long tail.

Sun's challenge is to ensure that the entire long tail of environments runs screamingly well on our entire infrastructure, whether it's running on top of the JVM, inside of a container in the web or application servers, or right on top of Solaris. It's one of my priorities as Software CTO to stimulate that kind of "both/and" embrace.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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