Sun hopes to cash in on Java install base with new app store
May 22, 2009 10:20 AM CT
Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz has revealed that Sun plans to launch an application store for Java software. It will be modeled after Apple's iPhone App Store and will allow users to download and install new software over the Internet. The store will use Sun's Java runtime updater as a deployment mechanism, providing a distribution channel that Schwartz says will reach an audience of billions.
The success of Apple's App Store store has inspired other companies to imitate the concept and build their own application delivery systems. Virtually all of the major mobile vendors have launched similar services. Sun will be the latest company to jump on the bandwagon. Its new service, codenamed Project Vector, will be fully unveiled at Sun's JavaOne event next month.
In a blog entry, Schwartz explained Sun's strategy for cashing in on its large Java runtime install base. Search engine companies have paid Sun a considerable amount of money over the years for bundling search toolbars with the runtime. According to Schwartz, Sun wanted to expand on that concept and eventually concluded that an application store was the most practical way to do so.
The model that Sun is considering at this stage is similar to that of other application stores. Developers will be invited to submit applications and determine the price at which their software should be sold. Sun will review the applications to determine that they are acceptable for distribution and will then make them available through the update system and take a cut of the application sale revenue. (The company has not yet revealed how much it will take off the top.) Sun will also let application developers bid for better positioning and broader exposure in the application storefront.
"Vector is a network service to connect companies of all sizes and types to the roughly one billion Java users all over the world," wrote Schwartz. "Vector (which we'll likely rename the Java Store), has the potential to deliver the world's largest audience to developers and businesses leveraging Java and JavaFX."
Is there a market?
The Java runtime does have a broad install base, but it's not clear if there's a big market for desktop Java applications. Java has maintained a position of strength in server environments and enjoys some popularity on mobile phone devices, but it has been almost completely displaced by Flash on the Web and is largely absent on the desktop.
Aside from Azureus and Eclipse, there aren't many popular desktop Java applications. While contemplating the lack of high-visibility, consumer-oriented Java software, I recalled a blog entry from 2005 in which former Sun desktop CTO Hans Muller tenuously attempted to argue that Limewire was Java's killer app on the desktop.
The fact that people struggle to identify a mainstream commercial Java application that is popular among consumers doesn't bode well for Sun's app store plan. And Muller later abandoned Sun and went to work for Adobe on the Flex project, a move that is fairly indicative of the direction that the broader industry has gone for cross-platform desktop software development.
There are a few factors that could work in Sun's favor. The company's JavaFX framework—which aims to bring richer client application development capabilities to Java—could make it a bit more competitive. During my own tests, I've found that JavaFX is conducive to rapid development and makes it easy to add nice aesthetic flourishes and greater interactivity to user interfaces. The availability of a convenient distribution channel might also boost the attractiveness of Java as a development platform and give software creators a reason to use Java technology to build consumer-targeted applications.
Schwartz also hints that the system might be opened to non-Java software as well, which would obviously make it relevant to a broader developer community. To make the app store a success, Sun will have to attract software that delivers real value for users and make it available in a convenient and non-invasive way. Sun will also have to work hard to find more reasonable policies and practices for application review than the ones that Apple has in place today.
A properly designed Java app store might prove to be profitable... but only if developers create Java applications that people actually want to use.