Developer

How to make a brand homeopathic

There was once a time when the word Java was used another person knew what you were talking about. It was either the language, the island or the coffee -- it was hard to take either of those three definitions out of context.

There was once a time when the word Java was used another person knew what you were talking about. It was either the language, the island or the coffee — it was hard to take either of those three definitions out of context.

Then the marketing masterminds at Sun decided to make up for lost time after past diddy-daddling with Java had only resulted in confusing people with crazy version numbers. Soon the Java brand would be splashed around with reckless abandon.

There was the Java Desktop System, which was simply a rebranded version of GNOME without an inkling of any Java bytecode — it was a pure Java branding exercise. If it really was a desktop making significant use of Java within a GNOME environment then I would have expected the java-gnome project to really kick on or even for the GTK look and feel to be integrated far earlier than Java 6 (which is Java 1.6 or J2SE v1.6 or more fully Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition version 1.6 — I'm glad that Sun made the branding not at all confusing).

SunONE was a perfectly reasonable name for what was sold as a stack of Sun hardware and software, it made sense to call it that — therefore it had to go. Enter the Java Enterprise System (Java ES). Now at least this time the software made extensive use of Java applications, but how easy is it to mistype Java ES with Java SE? Even the abbreviations are starting to get confusing at this point.

The final piece in this triumvirate of Java misbranding is the Java Workstation. This is not a workstation using the long fabled Java chip, alas it was a standard x86 based workstation for the Java Desktop.

Come last Friday, Jonathan Schwartz drops the latest branding bombshell — that the stock ticker for Sun will be changed from SUNW to Java. The old SUNW ticker, which stands for Stanford University Network Workstation, was all about the past said Schwartz in his blog post, and the future was JAVA, which presumably will stand for superfluous rebranding exercise.

Schwartz's post had garnered over 350 comments at the time of publishing, with the majority of commenters being far from happy with the move. Many pointed to other companies not using a product name for their ticker symbol and instead relying on the name of the company. Examples used included Apple's ticker is not LISA or IPOD, nor is Microsoft's WNDW or VSTA. A couple of helpful readers suggested it should be changed to LOON or FORTRAN, at least it would be a new name within Sun's naming stable.

But there is a more immediate problem afoot and that is how Sun deals with its role as custodian of the Java brand. For years Sun denied requests to open source the language citing fears that it would splinter the Java platform and brand, yet come 2007 here we are with Java licensed under the GPL and with a new governance model that could theoretically be free of any overlording from Sun.

The key role that Sun has to perform is, in its own words, to "protect the brand and its value by managing its use". A look through history shows that the Java brand really needs protection from Sun. Like a man with only a hammer for a tool, every problem looks like a nail and hence everything needs to be given a Java title.

Sun should start treating itself the same way it would treat IBM if they tried to create an analogue of the Java Desktop, instead Java is a bumper sticker that is whacked on the back of every Sun vehicle.

Each time a new product has the name Java attached to it, the brand itself gets weaker and suffers the death of a thousand pinpricks. If Sun are to protect the Java brand, they need look no further than within themselves for a place to start.

About Chris Duckett

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

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