Law #12: The Law of Line Extension
Ouch! Ralph Johnson says I am making "snide" comments about Java marketing. That stings.
Dr. Johnson was one of my professors at UIUC. He had a significant impact on my life, probably more than he knows. He's incredibly smart, and he would be a finalist in the Nicest Guy on Earth competition. When Dr. Johnson whispers, it sounds loud, at least to me.
Still, despite the small rebuke from my mentor, I can't quite bring myself to repent. I'm not trying to be mean or arrogant, but my goodness, we're talking about Sun here.
"Bummer of a birthmark, Hal"
Asking me not to be critical of Java marketing is like asking me to watch a Jim Carrey flick and only pay attention to the supporting cast. Some things are just too obvious to ignore.
It's fair to observe that everything is relative. Dr. Johnson is talking about Smalltalk marketing, and I suppose Java marketing looks pretty effective from that point of view. Clearly, Java is a big success. It is a mainstream language and platform. However, I remain of the opinion that Java could have been even more.
Remember: Marketing is an iceberg. There is the part of marketing you can see (advertising and communications), and the part you cannot see (strategy). We tend to forget about the part of the iceberg which is hidden under the water.
If I started writing about Sun's mistakes in marketing strategy, it would be an awfully long time before I ran out of things to say. Their marketing communications work is generally good. But in the end, the most tactful thing to say is that Sun is a hardware company trying to do software.
Do you remember the Far Side cartoon with the two deer? One of them has a birthmark on his chest which looks exactly like a bullseye. For someone who writes about marketing strategy, Sun is that deer.
You hurt the ones you love
Please don't pigeonhole me as an anti-Java guy. Yes, I mostly do .NET stuff these days, but I don't get religious about technology. My web server runs Debian. When I repave my Windows box, the first things I install are cygwin and emacs. I sometimes write stuff in Python. I've written lots of Java code, and I really like it. I'm not mad at Java. If anything, I'm mad at Sun for doing such a fine job preventing Java from realizing its full potential.
Back to the topic at hand
The Law of Line Extension says that it is a mistake to take the name of one product and apply it to another. Companies do this often, but it basically never works. We think that the power of the brand will help sell the new product. Instead, the brand itself is tarnished. People start to get confused about what the brand means. Quite often it is necessary to kill the second product before it causes too much damage to the first one.
Confession: SourceGear broke this law when we introduced SourceOffSite Collaborative Edition. We should not have borrowed the name of SourceOffSite for this product. When I critique marketing mistakes, I don't spare myself.
I already wrote about this law back in April when I got all fussy about Golden Oreos. I don't have too much more to say, except...
Ever heard of the Java Desktop System? :-)