September 23, 2003

Why does Sun call it the 'Java Desktop'?

- by Joe Barr -

The question didn't enter my mind until I saw it raised on a local LUG mailing list. But a sharp-eyed Luggite noted that Sun's new desktop -- codenamed Mad Hatter but called the Sun Java Desktop in press releases -- runs on Linux, uses GNOME, and runs Evolution for mail. "Where," she asked, "does Java come into the picture?"

She went on to quote from the Sun Java Desktop FAQ: "Java technology plays a very important role in the Java Desktop System -- the Java Virtual Machine is integrated, the Mozilla browser is Java-aware, Java is the preferred development environment, etc. To reinforce this, we have selected the name Sun Java Desktop System."

But that citation went right over my head. I had been so hoodwinked by the name that I assumed that either part of GNOME had been ported to Java or that the parts of GNOME they used on the desktop were somehow wrapped in Java so that the desktop could be run on any platform with a JVM. I was dead wrong.

I emailed Sun about this, but got no response. So I decided to check instead with Miguel de Icaza. He founded the GNOME project and is a co-founder of Ximian, the GNOME-based desktop and apps company which now belongs to Novell.

Miguel minced no words about it. He said, "It is just branding. Its basically Gnome, and they bundle the Java runtime, so you can write apps with Java. Thats all."

He added that it's "worse than Microsoft's dot net branding," and jokingly suggested that Sun might next start calling the Linux kernel "Solaris."

Intentionally or not, the branding misleads people. It did me. As de Icaza noted, "a side effect is that people will get the impression that 'Java works just fine for desktop apps'. Little they will know that there is no Java at all."

Sun has cautioned the press that the CDs of the Sun Java Desktop distributed at Sun World recently were not even beta level. Maybe that goes for the name as well.

Joe Barr has been writing about personal computing for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus,, and He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, home of the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army, an organization in which he holds the honorary rank of Corporal-for-life.


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