Java toolbar controversy ploy riding on back of Java security flaw drama

java-logo.jpgIn the wake of a major security flaw found in Java, a petition is circulating demanding that Oracle stop bundling a payola toolbar with the Java runtime. This practice was begun by Sun Microsystems, during the time period I was a Java SE team-member, and is being continued by Oracle. It is to bundle a toolbar, the "Ask Toolbar," with the Java download, such as what's available through the java.com website. Sun, and now Oracle, earns a little bit of money per download. Having been there when Sun began bundling payola toolbars, I know that the income is useful in order to fund Java, and that the toolbar has always been controversial to some people.

The petition suggests that Oracle had "decided to sacrifice the integrity of Java by bundling Ask Toolbar with Java in order to make few pennies per download in profit." Well, as I said, the toolbar-bundling began with Sun Microsystems many years ago. In any case the petition goes on to say it's "demeaning" for a "respected corporation" like Oracle to stoop to "such techniques only to make a small profit."

The problem? The Ask Toolbar hijacks the search engine choice, so that the Ask search engine is used. That search engine is then described as resorting to "various misleading advertisement techniques in order to confuse the unsuspecting users into clicking on their paid ads." For proof the petition links to a zdnet.com article.

What's wrong with a corporation making a bit of money off one of their assets?

Having worked inside the Java SE team for 10 1/2 years I know that, under Sun Microsystems' ownership, the Java team always seemed underfunded. A big part of this is that the Java SE product itself doesn't have much ability to directly get revenue. We didn't charge $$'s for downloading the Java runtime, it was available for free. We didn't put advertising on the Java websites (java.com or java.sun.com) because of the appearance of stooping to a demeaning action. We did get $$'s for support and licensing, but that wasn't enough to pay for the kind of large team required to develop a platform like Java.

Therefore, Java was a kind of loss leader that Sun felt would lead to sales of other products, such as hardware or software.

The income from the toolbar helped by providing some direct funding. Okay, it may not have flowed into a bank account labeled "Java SE" directly controlled by the VP in charge of Java, but it was income that Sun earned directly because of Java.

The issues raised by the petition are not new. They've been been brought up by others in earlier years.

The whole petition is here: on change.org