"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 June 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Java Been



If you're like most computer users, you probably greeted recent headlines touting the return of Java with a faintly raised eyebrow: "What? Java? That old crap is still around?" Oh, yes: It's been hacked, polluted, dragged into court — but it's still being used. Just not anywhere you'd think about it much.

Ah, but if your job involves getting a website running — or if you're in the HR department — Java's probably on your mind a lot. Just the other day, a friend called, making hurried small talk before getting to the point: Could this reporter get her a Java programmer? Like, now?

Java had a stormy public birth five years ago, and no one quite understood what it was good for. Somehow, Sun's software geniuses had the idea we'd download cool cross-platform apps — Windows, Mac, and Unix users, all swaying to Scott McNealy's grating voice in unison. The cold, boring reality is that Java proved really useful behind the scenes, in the plumbing, as it were, of the Net. Suitable, we're told, for "scalable, open website back-ends."



That's great for the plaid-suit types who've always sold complicated software for big, hulking servers kept away in the basement. For those who staked their career on the flash-and-dash, media-friendly vision of Java on the desktop, though, the passing years have only made them look more and more like asses. The Java game has become an episode of Survivor in reverse. All the young, good-looking types are the first to get voted out. Meanwhile, the ones who are left eye each other suspiciously, waiting for the next move. In this game, though, you get the million even if they kick you off the island. Here's our cast, winners and losers alike:

We've got to start with Marimba CEO Kim Polese, whose company's stock is still below its offering price and just recently started to crawl, sodden and disgraced, out of Wall Street's toilet. Marimba, of course, is the software company powering such vital, blue-chip concerns as Stamps.com. Investors often compare infrastructure companies like Marimba to the merchants who sold picks and shovels to gold-hungry '49ers. Unlike outfitters of that era, however, Marimba is managing to lose money.



Miko Matsumura, Sun's long-locked, long-lost Java evangelist, flew the coop in 1998 after Javatizing some 81,160 programmers. (We don't know what that means, but we're gratified by the fact that it sounds kind of dirty.) His post-Sun career hasn't been particularly bright: After fumbling around with some wacky Malaysian company whose main line of business was issuing press releases, he's recently joined a new startup called Kalepa Networks. A "kalepa," if you're curious, is a flag used to signal you're ready to trade goods, so we'll count Matsumura as another casualty of B2B fever.

Patrick Naughton, who helped develop Java at Sun way back when, is facing 18 months in the slammer for putting the non-virtual moves on a virtual 13-year-old girl he met in a dad&daughter chat room. (It turned out that the intelligent agent he was chatting with worked for the FBI.) While we've known our share of pervy programmers, what impressed us about Naughton is that this schlub from Rochester turned into Mickey's mick: As president of Go.com, he almost sat by the right hand of Michael Eisner.



Then there's Alan Baratz, once president of Sun's software division, who jumped ship last year to become a partner at investment bank Warburg Pincus. After an eight-month tour of duty there punctuated by unremarkable board seats and buy outs, he's back in Javatown as CEO of FireDrop, a company dedicated to — as far as we can tell — developing interactive spam.

FireDrop is, of course, funded by Kleiner Perkins, the VCs who just can't say no to any startup with Java in its business plan. But curiously, it's backed by KP partner Vinod Khosla, not Java Fund manager Ted Schlein. Schlein's fund is just about the only pot of venture money dedicated to one technology, but apparently, even within KP, he doesn't get the choice deals. We hear on Sand Hill Road that Schlein's devotion to Java, even to this day, is akin to TV-commercial character Mikey's affection for Life cereal. "Give it to Ted! Ted'll fund anything!"

Who's hanging on? A suspicious number of former IBMers — Patricia Sueltz, David Gee, and Simon Phipps, who've staged a quiet coup by joining Sun to run its Java division. That coffee cup is taking on a blue tint.

For that matter, Scott McNealy, while as abrasive as ever, has never had his heart in Java — though he gladly touts it as trade shows as a favor to Bill Joy, Sun's chief scientist and his one-time officemate. McNealy, whose first job was on a tank-assembly line in San Jose, has always had a jones for manufacturing. So we won't be surprised if he hands the keys over to Sun president Ed Zander and jumps to run General Electric, where he recently joined the board and has been making kissy-face with Jack Welch.

That may be the way today's most prominent Javanese can stay: If you really want to survive, don't eat the rats; jump off the ship with them.

courtesy of Jonathan Van Decimeter
picturesTerry Colon

Jonathan Van Decimeter