On the Importance of Constituencies

One of my favorite stories at Sun, and one of the most illuminating about our business, surrounds a series of discussions I had with an industry analyst at JavaOne two years ago. He started by saying:

My daughter loves Java.”

What? The only folks I’d really met that loved Java technology didn’t bear much resemblance to a 12 year old girl. So I was a little skeptical, and asked “why?”

He told me, when he came home from work, he emptied his pockets, and his daughter wasted no time in grabbing his phone to start playing games. Which were primarily written to Java, displaying the logo as they launched. She’d come to recognize the best games, and the new ones her friends talked about buying from their carrier, were written with Java. I’d never thought, frankly, about that particular audience – but that’s partially what led one of our teams to create java.com (which I assure you, talks to a non-traditional Sun demographic).

Now, I had a parallel set of interactions at this year’s JavaOne, at which a bunch of friends joined us for a discussion on the open sourcing of Java. Among the luminaries present was Brian Behlendorf, who opened his statements by asking what I’m sure he felt was a question with a popular answer, “How many of you work on an open source project?”

I expected to see a flurry of hands, and I’m sure he did, too.

Neither of us saw hands go up.

The community represented at JavaOne either worked within the Java Community, or were developers with other issues on their minds (like their day jobs). Interesting.

Building on the ‘unexpected diversity of audiences’ theme, I was keynoting a CIO event in Cincinatti a few weeks back. The event was attended by a cross section of American companies, from retailers to pharmaceutical companies, logistics and airlines. Toward the end of my prepared remarks, I started previewing the open sourcing of Solaris (and our Red Hat upgrade programs, just for fun). One of the CIO’s stopped me to ask, “why are you open sourcing Solaris? The last thing I want is more source code.” My response, “No offense intended, but you’re not my target demographic. It’s your developers, and they’d love the ability to see/evolve the source.”

The thread tying these stories together is simple – there is no single definition of ‘user’ that encompasses the diversity of the constituencies we serve, or our means of doing so. From 12 year old girls, to system administrators, to CIO’s, to naval officers, the folks on groklaw, to sell-side analysts (one of whom, I’m flattered to say, recently quoted my blog without attribution – I’m not holding my breath for a royalty check). Sun’s audiences are as diverse as those watching TV or listening to the radio. (Which makes perfect sense – what is the ‘net but the logical evolution of broadcast media.)

But looked at in reverse, what about serving a single constituency, a Java developer? Note that with the Tiger release of J2SE, the newest NetBeans gathering momentum (and Eclipse converts), and the unveiling of Java Creator, each product uses a different development and licensing model, appropriate to its objectives. J2SE is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between a vibrant and inclusive community, the most pervasive on the net (just go check out who belongs to the Java Community Process). NetBeans is the product of a traditionally defined open source community, churning out enhancements under a vastly different governance model. And then there’s Java Studio Creator, built by Sun, just by Sun, as a means of driving to market a Java development tool for fans seeking an open, cross-platform alternative to Visual Basic.

Three different products, three different styles of building and delivering innovation. One fundamental audience.

Which all goes to say, there are those that persist in trying to draw the industry as filled with binary extremes. (Mr. Epstein (and his peers on the opposite side), I have a gift for you.) I choose to see it differently – the network reaches a market so broad, there can never be one definition, one product or one market.

Nor will there be one opportunity. It’ll all depend upon the constituency you’re serving.

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