“Yes, we are working on improving performance and functionality of Java”

—Lewis W Tucker, Director
Technology Office, Sun Developer Relations, Java Software.

His designation on the business card looks rather
wierd—Director, Technology Office, Sun Developer Relations, Java Software.
Translated, it reads: Director and CTO of Developer Relations and a Java evangelist. A PhD
in computer science and author of several papers on artificial intelligence, parallel
processing and computer architecture, Lewis W Tucker, was with Thinking Machines Corp as
Director of Advanced Development prior to his joining Sun. Here, Tucker played an
important role in the development of software for the massively parallel Connection
Machine System. He was in the country recently to announce Sun’s Developer Connection
program. A part of the series of seminars taking place all over Asia, providing assistance
to developers for creating applications or products for Solaris operating environment and
Java and Jini technologies. Tucker spoke to DATAQUEST on developer relations, his role in
propagating the Java and Jini cause and the evolution of Java. Excerpts:

You are wearing two hats—that of a CTO
of Developer Relations and an evangelist of Java. Could you throw more light on this?

I started out as director of JavaSoft—in charge of third-party software development.
This was at the time when Sun organized all its software divisions under one roof so that
it can benefit the software partners of both Solaris and Java. As an evangelist, I am
carrying the message to the Asian countries—actually worldwide, because you need to
continuously do it—that if they are not already with Sun, it’s time they started
talking to Sun.

What exactly is your role as Director,
Developer Relations?

Sun is a producer of technology and systems. We rely on third-party software developers to
build applications on them and to provide services and support. When we came out with Java
there were no applications on it. We spoke to software developers, educated them and
provided training so that they could develop applications on Java. Kliener Perkins, a
venture capital firm, introduced a Java Fund for those building applications around Java.
Today, there are several thousand applications on Java.

A ‘techie’ once drew an
interesting analogy between Java and an Ambassador car. Like an Ambassador car is huge and
bulky, but can run on any road. However, choosing it over any another sleek car for this
one attribute is rather foolish. Similarly, choosing Java only for its ‘write once,
run anywhere’ capability is not thought as being very tech smart. How would you
counter this?

Well, Java is very new. The technology is just three years old and in these three years,
it has grown rather rapidly. Yes, we are working on improving performance and
functionality. We stay close to the developer community, which helps us in get a lot of
feedback to make it more stable and fast. With lots of new technology coming out in the
next few quarters, we will make it happen. Also, it is a case of expectations versus
reality. The growth in Java outstrips anything else. Besides, there is no other choice.
Today, we have to have a cross-platform technology. To that extent, it is imperative to go
on all roads.

Why?
Today, many businesses are growing through acquisitions. What they get are two companies,
both having an entirely different IT infrastructure. And so they need to integrate, and
that too fast, if they have to start functioning well. A classic example is that of 3Com
and US Robotics. They used Java to build that layer on top to create a uniform
environment, in the process creating a new infrastructure.

Shouldn’t IBM be given the credit?
Thanks to IBM, Oracle and Novell that Java has become successful. Every company has its
own agenda. With IBM, it is now possible to use its mainframes as web servers. That’s
[internet applications] where the value proposition of Java comes in. Operating systems
will exist as long as legacy applications exist. Only the new applications will be written
on to a Java application layer. By creating another layer of abstraction, we reduce the
importance of operating systems. By this, we are giving more power into the hands of IT
managers, consumer companies and people. We expect to see more innovative processes coming
along. They won’t have a technology lock, but will have a marketshare lock. Meaning,
companies will no longer have size advantage. The only advantage will be in their being
innovative.

So, given these, have many companies
created their fortunes with Java?

It is too early to say that. There are several start-ups using Java for building
applications, as they can now build and deploy applications quickly. There are instances
of companies developing applications for Java and running it on IBM AS/400 systems. To
give an example, Marimba is one company which has all its products on Java. Now coming to
creating fortunes, a company’s success depends on its business proposition. Java is
merely an enabler to make companies compete.

One of the early promises of Java was
that one would soon see Indian companies developing software products. Are there any
Indian products?

I can’t say for sure, but this has a lot to with the three-year history of Java.
Java1 and Java2 are the real platform for software developers. Now they can start
developing applications. Having said that, what is to be noted is that a lot of Java
applications are deployed inside enterprises. Between last year and this year, there has
been a lot of progress. Java is a more efficient programming language than C and C++. The
component model in Java is very easy. In this, Visual Basic has been very successful. Java
is better than these for plug and play. At Sun, component architecture has been the holy
grail for over 15 years! Over the last one year, more than 50% universities in the US have
started offering Java programming course. We are now looking at IITs and regional
engineering colleges in India to also do the same.

Recently, Fortune ran a feature
on how Bill Joy hit upon Jini. Now, how does Jini fit in with Java?

Plug-and-play between industries requires the service architecture of Jini and the
programming capability of Java. We don’t have communication between computers and
other electronic equipments in our networks today. By using Jini as a service delivery
mechanism for plug and play, we can solve the ‘last mile’ bandwidth problem.
Jini is vital for the peripherals industry—you don’t have to reconfigure the
network.

When do you see India becoming a highly
connected country and using different devices to connect to the net?

In India, bandwidth won’t be a problem for another six months or so. After this,
business-to-business needs will drive the need for bandwidth. As far as devices are
concerned, it will definitely take some more time. We are seeing the start of the devices
market happening—with Escort Financials launching smart cards and Lucky Goldstar
introducing a set-top box shortly. But it will take at least another year.

What after Jini? What is the next
evolution?

The next step in the evolution of IT would be any sophisticated product that can help me
put my time to more effective use. That is, it should help me pay for services from my
home through the net. For instance, software agents performing services. The evolution is
moving into a service-rich environment—an information economy. After all, information
and knowledge are a power in themselves.

Wouldn’t all these technologies
make life complex?

We can’t say anything. We will always go through stages. We are now seeing
developments getting consolidated. Today, I am the interlink, that is if I get a pager
message, I have to rekey the number into the cellphone in order to dial. Why not have my
pager talk to my cellphone? Smartcard is a fundamental change. It is the smallest network
device and with all information residing in it, it becomes an all powerful device. Once
programmed, smart cards can do all the negotiations on my behalf and stop making me the
intermediary for small things.

Does this mean that we will see a
generation of less smart people?

It doesn’t anyway make me less smart, just improves my efficiency. It helps me focus
on being a manager of processes and that’s where efficiencies come from.

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