Java palaver

24 August 2007

It's hard to argue with Fake Steve Jobs' characterisation of Sun Microsystems' decision to change its stock-ticker symbol from SUNW to JAVA. Reading Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz's post, you could believe that FSJ had hacked into Sun Central and written it for him: "JAVA is a technology whose value is near infinite to the internet." Some things are beyond parody.

People haven't held back from attacking the Sun board's decision and a number of them seem to be Sun insiders. For example, this comment from Numpty appears early on:

"What a TERRIBLE idea! When we used 'Java' in the name of all our software products a few years ago, customers were confused and frankly just laughed at us-- Java Desktop System was the prime offender, as it mostly uses no Java technology whatsoever. We're still licking our wounds and only just beginning to change the name of JDS now in OpenSolaris. So why use it for a company where most of the staff and products aren't Java-related either?"

Why do it at all? Schwartz's argument is that more people know about Java than about Sun. "If you're in the industry, just do the CPM calculus - the Java launch experience is one of the most pervasively viewed exposures on earth," he gushed. I think what he means is that tedious startup sequence that occasionally craps out completely exposes a lot of people to the name Java.

So, having been wowed by the user experience does he then expect them to get on the phone to their broker and shout: "Get me some o'that Java! I wanna ride that pony all the way to the top"? Will the scales fall from the eyes of the financial analysts, who suddenly realise that this is the Java company? Forget EPS estimates, stock picking's all about which computer language you wrote.

Schwartz even goes on about the numerological significance of the logo: eight strokes, that's good in Chinese. He casually forgets that Java has four letters. Four, the number that, in Cantonese and Mandarin as well as Japanese sounds like the word for death. Not an auspicious or lucky number than one. I'm surprised that Schwartz's feng shui adviser didn't tell him to change the name of Java to something with a few more letters while he was at it.

I can't think of a more pointless manoeuvre than thinking up a new stock ticker to push a brand. It will be invisible to almost anyone who actually buys Sun's stuff. The finance community will continue to use the metrics they always have to analyse Sun's performance. Individual investors might think, if that is the best move Schwartz can make, maybe their money is better off in another computer maker. And a bunch of brokers will wonder about that new coffee company that seems to have popped up on the board.