The opening session at OpenWorld last September featured James Gosling, the inventor of Java, as a way of emphasizing how important Java was as a part of the Sun Microsystems acquisition.  In a tersely worded statement on his blog site Gosling announced his departure from Oracle last week – something that can only be seen as a huge setback for Oracle. 

The exit of many of Sun’s senior executives earlier was not a big deal since in some ways the slow unraveling of this once great vendor came on their watch.  Losing Gosling, the spiritual leader of hundreds of thousands of software developers, has to hurt immensely.  It is hard to believe that IBM and Oracle would have engaged a fierce bidding war for Sun last year if Java had not been part of the deal.  The ability to claim leadership of the Java movement was an intangible asset that added billions to the ultimate sale price of Sun.  Oracle will still own and control the rights to Java without Gosling, but much of the cache will be gone. 

The fight over Java matters so much to Oracle and IBM because developers heavily influence the choice of middleware – a market that neither controls and that both aspire to dominate. 

If Gosling decides to retire and work on his tan the damage to Oracle will be minimal.  The same will be true if he raises a ton of venture money and sets out to invent something entirely new.  On the other hand, if he chooses to remain a force in the software development world and continues to influence the evolution of his creation then Oracle may have paid a great deal for damaged goods. 

The worst scenario for Oracle would be for Gosling to align himself with IBM.  I have this vision of a war room being set up somewhere in IBM’s Armonk headquarters filled with people trying to figure out how to entice Gosling to at least appear to be on its side.   Being outbid for Sun was very painful to IBM.  Being made fun of at OpenWorld had to hurt too.  Being able to trot out Gosling at IBM sponsored events in any capacity would be priceless. 

Many within our community still hve strong connections to IBM, especially those running JDE under iOS.  Many of you use Java today.  Those that don’t represent prospects for it at some point in the future.  Both IBM and Oracle will be fighting over the right to sell you the development tools and middleware you will move to eventually. 

Watching these two giants fight for control over Java and influence over the open systems movement will certainly be entertaining.  The result will be relevant as you choose the middleware on which your applications will be developed and run.