Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/13/gosling_oracle_brain_drain/

Gosling gusher sinks Oracle's Java cred

Losing that lovin' feeling

By Team Register

Posted in Software, 13th April 2010 03:42 GMT

Comment Oracle's loss of the father of Java, James Gosling, is by far the biggest in terms of defections the database giant has witnessed since acquiring Sun Microsystems.

There has been talk of a Sun "brain drain" ever since the acquisition was finalized in January. The departure of Sun chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy along with chief executive Jonathan Schwartz (AKA "My Little Pony") was expected - and even applauded in many circles.

Then some argued that the departure of big names like Simon Phipps, a C-level Sun executive, as well as Tim Bray, Zack Urlocker and others represented the beginning of a potentially harmful brain drain.

Gosling's loss is more than a trickle, given Java was one of the prime reasons Oracle bought Sun. At least in the Java community, losing Gosling is a gusher that Oracle's PR machine will struggle to control.

Despite years in what seemed to be a dormant state, having created Java and championed its launch in 1995, Gosling still represents Java to the community. Upstarts abound, and Java innovation has cropped up in many places around the industry. But there would be none of it without Gosling.

That said, what will be the overall impact to Oracle of losing Gosling? Negligible is my guess. That's because Oracle is all about making money. Oracle knew exactly what it was going after when it entered the bidding for Sun. And it was not any particular personality. Quick, name a big-time personality out of Oracle's engineering ranks. Time's up. Who did you come up with? That's because the company does not abide personalities (other than Larry's).

Oracle's goal in acquiring Sun was to do what Sun seemed to have so much trouble doing in its later years: Make money off of its horde of technology. And the database company does not necessarily need Gosling to do that.

You can't shut a good programmer down

But an engineer like James Gosling in the kind of person you want in a company with vision. Everything he touches will not bring gold, but he continues to have a vision and desire to solve problems and make developers' lives easier.

According to reports, he even pledged to still be writing code in 2030, which would put Gosling into his 70s. What company would let a guy like that get away?

However, we don't know the situation under which Gosling left Oracle. We don't know if he left out of dissatisfaction with a direction the company was taking, over a disagreement in terms, or whether he had a deal to stay on for a certain amount of time. In a blog post announcing his departure, Gosling said it was "time to move on" and added "just about anything I could say that would be accurate and honest would do more harm than good." Not exactly telling.

So however you look at it, things didn't work out between Gosling and Oracle. If Sun was still an independent company would he still be there hawking the Java Store, NetBeans, GlassFish and the rest of it. There is no doubt that he would.

Meanwhile, back to the Oracle "brain drain." At first glance, it appeared that former Sun chief open source officer snubbed Oracle, but a later report indicated Phipps was not offered a role at the database giant.

Regrets? I had a few

Here again, what is the loss of Phipps to Oracle? Phipps, a Sun employee for nearly 10 years and the company's chief open source officer for five of those, has some real open source chops and remains one of the most prolific bloggers on the open source software. Yet, he has ruffled more than a few sets of feathers in dust-ups over the years.

And in a post marking his last day at Sun, Phipps indicated that in addition to several achievements, he also had a few regrets. Amongst those regrets, Phipps listed:

"Of course, no story with highlights like that can be without disappointments too. I'm sad that Apache did not get the TCK license they requested. I'm sad that we didn't get the code for some of those projects permanently outside the Sun firewall. I'm sad we never got to a place where co-developers become a priority for various product teams. And I'm sad that, despite the success of the open source software businesses, it still wasn't enough to rescue Sun in the end. But overall, I am amazed and humbled to see what the open source team at Sun has achieved."

Still, Phipps is certainly an open source thinker worthy of holding onto. And as a member of the Open Source Initiative board, he will continue to show his worth.

Another "drainee," Tim Bray, co-creator of XML and former director of web technologies at Sun, declined an offer from Oracle and joined Google's Android team instead. Bray, whose role at Sun was somewhat amorphous, is perhaps a bit more of a loss than Phipps. Bray announced his departure from Oracle/Sun via a Twitter post.

And he came out swinging the moment he landed at Google by attacking Apple for its proprietary stance vis-à-vis the iPhone. Interestingly enough, Bray lands at Google a couple of years after criticizing the search company for hosting sharecroppers on its "AppEngine plantation."

Another potentially costly loss for Oracle might be that of Zack Urlocker, former vice president of MySQL, which Oracle acquired in the Sun buy. Urlocker has a lot of experience in the software business, having roots that go as far back as respected tools specialist Borland Software in its heyday (and beyond).

Urlocker said he was leaving Oracle to join the board of Revolution Computing to help them "disrupt" the predictive analytics market. In this space he'll have to compete with the likes of IBM, which is betting big on "business analytics." Perhaps Urlocker sees this as another David versus Goliath opportunity, as with MySQL taking on Oracle and other leading database vendors.

Urlocker is an advisor and board member for several startup and open source companies. Maybe he (or Oracle) felt like Oracle had enough advisors.

How much for your love?

Talk to many in Java and open source, and you'll find Oracle engenders respect but few actually like the company. People respect the giant for the fact it's run efficiently and manages to make money. This is also it's downfall, though. Oracle is seen as your classic big vendor: faceless, after your money, and whose goal is to get you into locked into its stack.

Oracle seems to be aware of this, as its top brass and the Sun execs that survived the acquisition have gone forth with the message that Oracle "values" the community and that it wants to engage with those building applications using Java and open source and that will run on its platforms - its database, application server and Java-based business applications. It's made great play, too, of the fact the annual JavaOne conference will be back and better than ever, running in parallel with its OpenWorld event in San Francisco, California, later this year.

Unfortunately for Oracle, by losing Gosling, Phipps, Bray and Urlocker the giant's not just lost experienced technologists with vision that gave it credibility among the very people it wants to win over. It's also lost the kinds of people who could have taken the edge off a technology giant in that community, and who had helped keep important doors open for Sun over the years.

This is talent you can't easily replace and that's going to hurt Oracle as it goes out in to the community to prove it's a good team player. ®