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Adobe sucks on Oracle brain drain for HTML5 game gain

Java VM experts exit en masse

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Adobe seems to be juicing its software gaming credentials against HTML5 by grabbing some hard-core Sun Microsystems talent as they slip out Oracle's back door.

Four senior and respected members of the old Sun Hotspot Java Virtual Machine team jumped clear of Oracle during March and April, and all four have landed at Adobe.

The four are Paul Hohensee, who has been named principal computer scientist at Adobe, John Pampuch, who grabbed a spot as director of Flash VM, and Igor Veresov and Tony Printezis, who were both appointed as senior computer scientists at the software-maker.

A further two Sun VM brains – Charlie Hunt, a former performance lead engineer, and YS Ramakrishna – have also left Oracle, for Salesforce.com and a small private software firm respectively.

Until their exit, they'd occupied similar posts inside Oracle as technical staff directing HotSpot or working on engineering performance. Hohensee joined Sun in 1999 and Ramakrishna in 2002 while Veresov, Pampuch and Printezis joined in 2005.

The group's members all boast deep experience in garbage collection, memory management, compilers, HotSpot development and in languages – prized among anybody interested in squeezing out micro sub seconds of performance from their software.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Hohensee is working with Adobe managers and engineers on technical direction and delivery of a "high performance and extremely reliable product" and to "contribute to overall Flash technical direction".

Oracle inherited the team along with HotSpot when it acquired Sun in 2010. Adobe, meanwhile, has them working on its ECMAScript-based ActionScript language and associated VM, which is part of Flash Player.

In November 2011, Adobe shook up its Flash roadmap in the face of competition from HTML5 and growing resistance to Flash on devices, thanks to Apple's deceased co-founder and chief exec Steve Jobs. Adobe has recast Flash as the platform for something very specific, gaming, instead of being a generic media player for broad use everywhere.

The ActionSctipt VM had been part of Flash but with Flash being sidelined either the ActionScript VM must perform better minus Flash, or ActionScript must work better on other VMs: chiefly, HotSpot.

To help, Adobe is revisiting ActionScript, which has gone virtually unchanged since its introduction in 2006. "Adobe believes it is time to revise the language to carefully steer its further evolution towards greater expressiveness as well as productivity and performance gains," the firm said.

The idea is to make ActionScript better suited to the high-performance and hardware utilisation requirements of gaming, and to improve developer productivity. The wording of the roadmap plays right into the skills of the ex-Oracle team – a complete embrace of static typing and hardware-oriented numerics.

This is big: having killed Flash for mobile, Adobe is now focusing on the browser and device hardware. ActionScript is up against its ECMAScript cousin, HTML5, which everyone from browser-makers to tablet-lovers wants to get with. The planned changes are so extreme that Adobe has warned that existing apps might not work with the new ActionScript.

While Adobe will have recognised the value of the quartet it has hired, there was no word on their LinkedIn profiles on why they've all jumped clear of Oracle all at the same time. Oracle has certainly seen a number of former Sun brains leave, the biggest being Java daddy James Gosling.

It is not unusual for employees acquired by a new owner to leave and it's possible this group have left in the wake of the vesting of any share options they might have received from Oracle. Shares in such acquisitions are allocated in chunks over a given time period to help retain the talent. Vesting periods are typically six months, a year, two years and four years. ®

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