Escape the browser?

Sun’s difficult position has been covered here, in business circles, and even in the land of puppets. So when Jonathan Schwartz surfaces with the launch of JavaFX 1.0, naturally the question in everyone’s mind is how exactly a client technology is going to advance Sun’s position in the marketplace as it downsizes to avoid a possible collapse.

Schwartz comes out swinging in the video embedded below, talking of Java’s strong position on desktops and what he calls the majority of mobile devices. He frames the discussion around the desire of companies to escape from the lock-in of the browser, dividing the world conceptually between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google Chrome (presumably including Firefox and its growing share.) As he details a range of screens through which to project Java power, you can even see an iPhone on the far right though Java, like Flash, is shut out of the Apple smartphone.

The basic pitch is that the browser is hostile territory, and JavaFX allows you (producer and customers) to literally drag an application out of the browser frame and deposit it on the desktop – therby allowing the user to reconnect back to the producer without going through the browser. It’s an effective metaphor, buttressed by Schwartz’s suggestion that the Java virtual machine is the highest performance virtual machine in the marketplace and therefore capable of running 9 hi def video images in realtime.

This is a classic Schwartz framing of the market, positioning the bigcos as siphoning away the underlying business from independent companies – the Fortune 500, media companies, and so on – who have Java somewhere in their IT infrastructure. Java has a global developer constituency, a mature enterprise application foundation, and with JavaFX and associated tools for both NetBeans and Eclipse, a framework for extending the browser in much the same way Microsoft is doing with Silverlight and Adobe with Flash.

As a check off on the list of things to do to keep pace in the rush to the cloud, JavaFX is late but not fatally so. The economic crisis seems to be putting some much needed bounce in Sun’s step, a respite from the somewhat Zen-like open source strategy that Schwartz has lathered on all announcements for the past several years. But competing with Microsoft and its deep pockets on the one hand while being sliced and diced with forking and outright banning of Java across the mobile space on the other has to be troubling for Sun’s board and potential buyers.

How Sun approaches the cloud will likely tell the tale. As Schwartz says about the current climate: Get reach and then get rich. Build an audience, build a user base, then go out and figure out how to make money. Good advice for both Sun and its customers.