Based on comments at this week’s JavaOne conference, Oracle and its CEO Larry Ellison may scratch the long itch to get into the computer business by developing netboooks and smartphones that are branded by Sun and powered by Java software.


Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made an appearance at the JavaOne conference on Tuesday and in the midst of telling the crowd of Java developers how Oracle will continue to invest Java — Oracle is in the process of acquiring Java creator Sun Microsystems — Ellison (right) remarked that Oracle plans to use Java to power a whole range of new devices, which would likely be branded under the Sun logo.

“You’ll see us get very aggressive with Java, and developing Java apps for things like telephones and netbooks. There will be computers that are fundamentally based on Java,” said Ellison. This new hardware could even be branded under Sun Microsystems. “I don’t see why some of those devices shouldn’t come from Sun,” Ellison added.

Neither Ellison nor Sun CEO Scott McNealy, who shared the stage with him, elaborated on future hardware plans any more that. “Let’s focus mainly on Java here today, that’ll keep us out of trouble,” said McNealy.

The two executives encouraged the Java developers in the crowd to build applications for smartphones and netbooks using JavaFX software.

Ellison particularly drove home Oracle’s history with Java and its aggressive plans for its future. He said, “All of our middleware is based 100 percent on Java,” and Oracle has “invested more than anybody else in Java technology in terms of dollars over the years, and we intend to invest-and accelerate our investments-going forward.”

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Ellison has had an itch to get into the computer business for a long time, so this new proclamation is not much of a surprise. Back in 1996, Oracle launched the Network Computer, or NC, which was essentially a thin client machine aimed especially at replacing desktop PCs in the enterprise with a much more inexpensive device. Ellison heavily championed the NC, but the product completely flopped. Still, it’s interesting to note that the original spec included Java as part of the software.

If Oracle intends to build netbooks with Java as the primary platform, then it will likely do it with a version of Linux as the core underlying OS. One of the challenges to overcome will be that while Java is a very scalable enterprise platform, it also has a reputation among both developers and users for being a bit slow and clunky for some functions.

It’s also conceivable that Oracle could build Java nettop, a sibling to the netbook which is expected to have a significant impact on the desktop market in the next couple years. In fact, nettops could sell for as low as $100 and potentially fill the role envisioned for the NC, with virtualization software powering the devices from enterprise data centers.

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