Will the Java Platform Create The World’s Largest App Store?

To say the past few months have been a whirlwind is an understatement.
And thanks for the reminders, I recognize it’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. For reasons why, just click here to read the background. And before you ask, SEC regulations and securities laws limit what I can discuss about the Oracle transaction, so don’t expect any insights on the topic.
But there’s still a ton going on at Sun – with JavaOne (June 2nd, in San Francisco) coming up fastest on the horizon. We’re preparing to reveal what I believe is one of the most important advancements ever for the Java community – and this time, it’s all about revenue and business opportunity.
As you know, we’re fond of throwing great big numbers around when talking about Java’s distribution: billions of PCs’, mobile devices, and smartcards, millions of enterprise servers, set top boxes, Blu-Ray DVD players and a growing number of very cool Kindles (buy one here). Very few technologies on the internet have anywhere near that kind of distribution muscle. Adobe’s Flash, and Microsoft’s Windows are just about its only peers when measured by runtime volume.

But not all Java runtimes are the same. For most devices, from RIM’s Blackberry to Sony’s Blu-Ray DVD players, original equipment manufacturers (known as “OEM’s”) license core Java technology and brand from Sun, and build their own Java runtime. Although we’re moving to help OEM’s with more pre-built technology, the only runtimes currently that come direct from Sun are those running on Windows PC’s.
And oddly enough, that’s made the Windows Java runtime our most profitable Java platform. I thought I’d provide some insight into that business here, and then introduce a project we’re planning to unveil at this year’s JavaOne, known internally as Project Vector.
As a business model, traffic for traffic’s sake isn’t that interesting (but never confuse traffic with adoption). Free internet traffic is only interesting if a third party is willing to pay to drive distribution of their content to your audience – from highway billboards to internet runtimes, businesses will pay for exposure and distribution to drive their business, whether through branding/advertising, delivering news, or selling movies or retail products. “Getting distribution” used to mean getting access to bricks and mortar distributors in shopping malls – nowadays, it means having another company propel your content into the market via the internet.
Now to that point, a few years ago, we called our friends at one of the world’s largest search companies (you can guess who), to talk about helping them with software distribution – because of Java’s ubiquity, we had a greater capacity than almost anyone to distribute software to the Windows installed base. We signed a contract through which we’d make their toolbar optionally available to our audience via the Java update mechanism. They paid us a much appreciated fee, which increased dramatically when we renegotiated the contract a year later. Distribution was becoming quite valuable to us and to them – and given the “take” rates, or the rates at which consumers were choosing to install new content, the Java audience saw value in the new application.

The year following, the revenue increased dramatically again – when an aspiring search company (again, you can figure out who) outbid our first partner to place their toolbar in front of Java users (this time, limited to the US only). Toolbars, it turns out, are a significant driver of search traffic – and the billions of Java runtimes in the market were a clear means of driving value and opportunity.
The revenues to Sun were also getting big enough for us to think about building a more formal business around Java’s distribution power – to make it available to the entire Java community, not simply one or two search companies on yearly contracts.
And that’s what Project Vector is designed to deliver – Vector is a network service to connect companies of all sizes and types to the roughly one billion Java users all over the world. 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. What kinds of companies might be interested?
If you talk to a Fortune 500 company or a startup, pretty much everyone craves access to consumers – which is the one problem we’ve solved with the Java platform. Most folks don’t think of Sun as a consumer company, and largely we’re not, but our runtimes reach more consumers than just about any other company on earth. That ubiquity has obvious value to search companies, but it’s also quite valuable to banks looking to sign up new accounts, sports franchises looking for new viewers, media companies and news organizations looking for new subscribers – basically, any Java developer looking to escape the browser to reach a billion or so consumers.
How will it work? Candidate applications will be submitted via a simple web site, evaluated by Sun for safety and content, then presented under free or fee terms to the broad Java audience via our update mechanism. Over time, developers will bid for position on our storefront, and the relationships won’t be exclusive (as they have been for search). As with other app stores, Sun will charge for distribution – but unlike other app stores, whose audiences are tiny, measured in the millions or tens of millions, ours will have what we estimate to be approximately a billion users. That’s clearly a lot of traffic, and will position the Java App Store as having just about the world’s largest audience.

This creates opportunity for everyone in the developer community – and specifically, for any developer (even those not using Java/JavaFX) seeking to reach beyond the browser to create a durable relationship with their customers (and btw, don’t forget to join us for CommunityOne – the day before JavaOne, June 1st, same location – click the graphic to learn more). Remember, when apps are distributed through the Java Store, they’re distributed directly to the desktop – JavaFX enables developers, businesses and content owners to bypass potentially hostile browsers.
For details on how Vector will work, when it’ll be available, how to submit your content or application – alongside insights into Project Vector’s technology, roadmap, features and business model, come see us at JavaOne… In the interim, you can learn more about the latest JavaFX news at sun.com/javafx, and download the latest JavaFX design tools at netbeans.org.
And although we obviously don’t comment on rumors, we might even have a special guest or two at JavaOne.
See you in San Francsico (or on the webcast…)!

34 Comments

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34 responses to “Will the Java Platform Create The World’s Largest App Store?

  1. Steve M

    This has serious potential! Finally an app store for the desktop (and hopefully other java devices) and a chance to write some desktop java apps!

  2. Tobias

    Jonathan,
    this sounds interesting. I would love to understand on which platforms these one billion potential customers work, what are the sizes of the partitions?
    Also you keep mentioning JavaFX. I played with it (under Linux, despite SUN trying to keep me from doing that) and liked it so far. But I stopped investing into it when I discovered there is absolutely no license for the runtime of JavaFX. Any sane business person has stop any investments in JavaFX if they learn (and understand) this fact.
    I hope SUN (or Oracle) will soon announce what it is really planning to do with JavaFX.
    Best Regards,
    Tobias

  3. Curt Cox

    Thanks for listening to the community. This will be a really valuable service for developers.

  4. Corey

    I sure hope Sun is going to actually release the JWebPane component soon: http://weblogs.java.net/blog/alex2d/archive/2008/12/jwebpane_projec_1.html. This was announced a year ago, but it still has not been released, and Java is in serious need of a web browser component. The lack of a decent Swing component that can handle HTML that does not cost a lot of money is a serious limitation to the number and types of applications that can be developed using Java. I have no use for JavaFX right now, but I could certainly use JWebPane today.

  5. We already know that Windows Java runtime is the most profitable Java platform… but you can’t forgot that Java should be multiplatform, and that one of the unique features when I compare it to other platforms… there is no reason to put JavaFX way behind for GNU/Linux or even (Open)Solaris.

  6. Nathan Evans

    Jonathan hoping to see JavaFX on Solaris soon, still using SXDE here on my laptop. Its working flawlessly and I am very anxious to start using JavaFX.

  7. From an advertising standpoint, this looks like it is going to be an amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to see how this rolls out.

  8. Zammbi

    Just to clear things up, this app store is something like iPhone’s app store?

  9. I am a bit concerned about the ability of these applications to go "directly to the desktop". Without an incredible amount of oversight as to which applications can be included in the Java Store, this could open up a whole new avenue for adware/spyware applications to distribute themselves. Also, are you implying that JavaFX will be able to reach beyond the secure applet runtime in the browser? I would have some concerns about this as well.
    Overall, it sounds like a good way to monetize the install base of Java – just be very careful please, or you will turn people away. Sun has a reputation for keeping Java very clean, and I wouldn’t want people to sour because of some java store content.

  10. You said (you wrote): "JavaFX enables developers, businesses and content owners to bypass potentially hostile browsers". How do you define the concept "hostile browser"?

  11. Dmitri Trembovetski

    There seems to be a lot of confusion with this post (judging by comments on other forums like javagaming.org), so let me sum it up:
    1. Sun is making money off distribution of Java runtime (by offering partner products during java install) – this has been going on for a couple of years at least
    2. Sun will be offering a store for Java/JavaFX applications, distributed with the Java runtime. YOU can submit your app and perhaps make money.

  12. Great, I hope this will bootstrap and work out well. This could lead to amazing new opportunities for all kind of developers.
    I must confess that I was hoping to see the usage of a well known AppStore for JavaFX applications finally running on their device.
    Nevertheless I look forward attending the J1, bringing some friends from Germany to be the first to know, learn and share all this new stuff.

  13. @Wise Finish: There are no surprises/changes/risks/tradeoffs/compromises in the security model for JavaFX apps. You can run a JavaFX applet inside the full sandbox, with the same restrictions as apps built with AWT or Swing. Or you can reach (partially or completely) out of the sandbox, but that will involve asking permissions to the user, and using digital signatures for a less scary user interaction – again, exactly like you can do with the old Applets. There are absolutely no changes.
    If anything, JavaFX is a improvement in the realm of security, because it augments the JRE with a bunch of advanced media features that allow a fully sandbox app to do lots of things that would previously require dependencies on native libraries like JOGL, OpenAL, mp3 or mpeg codecs, etc. (and that would require the user to grant full access to the app).
    @Javier Resendiz: As I understood from all Sun JavaFX PR talk, the browser is now labeled hostile/evil/unfriendly/etc. basically as a means to promote Java’s new capacity (JRE 6u10+) of dragging applets out of the browser. This creates advantages like slightly better performance of media playback (anything that plays inside a browser window pays a price for that), features like full-screen mode (good for games), keeping the applet alive even after closing the browser, and enabling an easy and smooth installation process. Notice that this capacity is not specific to JavaFX, you can do it with any Applet. But JavaFX further facilitates things on the programming side because you don’t have slightly different APIs for each deployment option (Applet / WebStart), not to mention of course Mobile. In short: it’s basically a marketing message – the browser limits user experience, JavaFX liberates the user. Nothing to see here, technically.

  14. I can see some interesting corollaries to this model. Perhaps Google is looking to use Android in the same way, and if they cut mobile OEMs and Telcos in on the deal, Microsoft will very quickly be unable to charge for Windows Mobile. Heck, they may actually have to *pay* to get people to use their operating system.
    I’ve blogged about this at wisdomofganesh.blogspot.com/2009/05/will-windows-become-drain-on-microsoft.html
    Wonderful what a bit of competition can do to a fat monopoly.
    Regards,
    Ganesh Prasad

  15. Welcome back! It is something weird with human minds that when a blog post appears you automatically check for it, maybe at quantum level we sense it, connectivity is embedded in us it seems. All this heavy stuff about the merger, the very length of the TOC is intimidating. When distribution is your focus, it should first permeate all the layers of your own country. It is surprising that very well-read Americans are still unaware about the free sun products. This means that there is something lacking in the way awareness is being created. What I have seen is black bags with Sun Micro systems embroidered on them in blue, these I think are distributed in seminars here. If all Americans using computers know about Sun products, that will like a test drive for your distribution for any product.
    This awareness is possible, recently I was at a beach and was amazed at how water had sculpted the rocks into beautiful waves, these were like rock waves. Sometimes nature talks to us and it felt as if through this creation it conveyed that nothing is impossible.

  16. I really hope that it leads into a good ecosystem for JME applications as well! There are millions of mobile devices supporting JME platform, but there is really no java mobile app store around for selling applications, like ones for Android and iPhone…

  17. I deeply hope that its comming to linux. That’s my current development environment.

  18. I am hoping that this app store can cover Micro Edition platform as well.
    An official Java ME app store would make sense for a lot of people.

  19. Dave

    A Java App Store is exactly what Java needs, and has always needed. This is essential to get people to install more Java apllications.

  20. Just wondering when Sun will announce an app store "in the cloud" — open up a cloud server for everyone to run these apps… and just meter it to consumers by bandwidth and storage.

  21. JavaME Fan

    This is GREAT NEWS for JavaME on cellphones and smartphones developers!!! But Sun has to solve the device fragmentation issue first! Will a Sun Java Wireless Client for all phones be available?
    Good luck!

  22. RJS

    First there was the sandbox (OK), then there was the signed applet (good if you can or even have to trust the provider), then there was fine-grained security (fantastic, this great Java thing has finally put me in control!), … but all I see in reality is that Java runtime distributions completely subvert their own sophisticated security model by encouraging programmers to sign their code, and then giving users a binary choice of giving that code complete and unlimited control over their account or cancelling its execution altogether (the dialog box for that is even intentially negligent by having removed any real warning about the potentially dire security implications), taking us back to the early beginnings where security was provided by the sandbox, but only (!) if you’re lucky enough to get unsigned code. Are we going to get that control after all (the technology is in place, but the policies need to follow), or will this turn into a complete security and business nightmare?

  23. Java may indeed have a huge reach, and you are touting it, perhaps correctly. However, the chatting up of Sun as *the* company to reach over a billion customers… I must ask: "why do we need a company to do that?" Even bigger than Sun is the power, accessibility and ubiquity of the Web itself (with an estimated almost 2 billion with access). There will always be a place for native applications, but the greater reach and scope involve the programming of applications based on Web frameworks and technologies, not native Java.
    Sorry, Jon. But I’m going to have to step past you into an even bigger market that is growing constantly and not controlled by App stores or Sun/Oracle agendas. Mark my words: the future of Apps is the mobile Web, not native Java – no matter its ubiquity.

  24. Anon

    This could be HUGE, but it needs one very important feature:
    * automatic bundling/install of the proper java runtime for each application.
    The biggest problem for desktop java apps is that the users have no idea how to install/download the proper java runtime for the application and it’s too much of a pain. It needs to be seamless and appear as though it’s just one download and installation, not two (i.e. don’t make them download and install the runtime and then do the same for the app).
    Java WebStart’s the perfect starting point for this. (But I’ve had enough issues with it just throwing errors that the proper runtime’s not installed and giving no options that it needs some work)

  25. Jon E

    Jonathan, you must keep shouting out these messages and announcements of Java related technologies. There is too much FUD around "the transition", and the absence of these announcements makes it worse. More FUD == more difficulty for us to push adoption within our own companies.

  26. Wilhelm Storitz

    What about a cloud hosting offer like (or better than) the Google App Engine For Java?
    Hosted apps could also be available on this Java store…

  27. boBF

    I hope that whatever you do, you include a setting that says something along the lines of "I just want security updates, no other offerings shall appear". So that my users don’t start downloading and using unauthorized applications.

  28. Vector sounds exciting. Since vectors have magnitude and direction, what does this mean for Sun? What kind of magnitude and direction are we talking about. The Sun aquisition by Oracle is awesome, by the way.🙂 See ya at CommunityOne and JavaOne, everyone!

  29. Kevin Hutchinson

    The Java app store would be a cooler concept if the apps I buy/get can easily be copied onto my smart phone. So essentially I get the same functionality on my phone and laptop/desktop. "All the screns of your life" as you used to say. I often want to run iPhone apps on my laptop coz they’re simpler than going to the web site of the provider. Examples are iStockTrade from TD-Ameritrade, At Bat 2009 by MLB, Tweetie. You see what I’m getting at. I hope Larry likes your cooking!

  30. Anonymous

    The iTouch and iPhone are the reason Apple’s app store is doing well. Where’s the device that will drive the love? The app store is nothing without a cool device.

  31. I don’t think consumers are going to like this or care about it.

    It seems to be driven by Sun’s need to expand a revenue stream than any particular “user need”.

    Desktop apps written in Java Swing or JavaFX are generally lame. All the interesting work around distribution is happening inside the browser, not on the desktop where the apps just slow each other down – particularly Java apps (I’m on OS X – nothing should pause my whole *^%$ system the way Java does).

    In terms of this app store concept, “highest bidder” placement of apps by themselves is just going to annoy people.

    Google has shown that providing the best and more relevant possible information, accompanied by one or two highlighted, sponsored blocks, is the best compromise between user-friendliness and commerce.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to come off so negative! But I think these are valid criticisms.

  32. lkosak

    Daniel, I agree with you. I’ve always felt that there was a strong disconnect between the relationship most people have with Java, and the relationship that Sun seems to think they have with their customers. I wrote a fairly longwinded critique of the concept that Jonathan describes above, but it appears that he has vetoed it. I’ve reposted it at http://www.twodimensionalworld.com/2010/03/10/open-comment-to-jonathan-i-schwartz/ if anyone is interested.

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