Sun Hits Street With New JAVA Ticker

In a move heavy with symbolism, Sun Microsystems said Thursday it would change the ticker symbol under which its stock trades on the Nasdaq to “JAVA.”

Sun will replace its current ticker of SUNW with the new symbol, which is also the name of the widely used software for handling Web applications that it helped create more than a decade ago.

The company’s current ticker, SUNW, is an acronym for the Stanford University Network Workstation, a reference to the first computer built by Sun’s founders while still graduate students. Sun has used that symbol since going public in 1986.

Looking Ahead

The Java name is far more well known than the Sun brand, said company President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

“SUNW represents the past, and its not without a nostalgic nod that we’ve decided to look ahead,” Schwartz wrote in a posting to his blog announcing the move. “The number of people who know Java swamps the number of people who know Sun.”

“On PCs, mobile phones, game consoles — you name it, wherever the network travels, the odds are good Java’s powering a portion of the experience,” he added. “We are no longer simply a workstation company, nor a company whose products can be limited by one category — and Java does a better job of capturing exactly that sentiment than any other four letter symbol.”

Giving It Away?

The move did not have any immediate impact on Sun stock, which traded — under the existing symbol for now — unchanged in early trading Friday at US$4.93, much closer to the 52-week low of $4.50 than the yearly high of $6.78.

Sun clearly wants customers and investors to associate it more closely with Java, which has become one of the most ubiquitous software languages. Java was designed to handle applications in the distributed computing environment of the Internet, and can be used to create applets, or small programs that create interactive features on Web pages.

Some 95 percent of the mobile handsets on the market now utilize Java in some way as well, and the two most popular Web browsers, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox, both utilize Java code.

Shortly after releasing Java, Sun chose to open the code up, allowing thousands of developers to go to work improving it and building applications to work with it.

Despite its ubiquity, Java has not been a major financial success for Sun, which chose to license the code through open source licensing arrangements rather than more proprietary approaches.

As a result, other companies often get more revenue each year from selling Java servers and systems than Sun does from licensing the software itself.

Highlighting Its Development Role

The move might indicate Sun wants to find ways to better monetize its role in developing Java, but the company has only increased its commitment to making Java widely available, recently releasing more than 6 million lines of code under the open source GPL, Gartner analyst Mark Driver told the E-Commerce Times.

That move helped assure developers and other third parties that Sun wasn’t going to try to assert more control over Java, though it still owns the copyright to the name.

Interestingly, that licensing move was seen helping to disconnect Java from the overall “corporate fortunes” of Sun, which seems in contrast to the move to embrace Java as a ticker symbol.

“There is still tension,” Driver added, since the Sun license for Java is not fully compatible with other open source efforts.

Sun may be hoping that by highlighting its role in creating Java, it will become a more favored vendor of Java servers and related technology. Right now, third parties such as IBM, BEA and JBoss make more money selling middleware servers that use Java than does Sun, said open source developer and blogger Savio Rodrigues.

Java won’t be the most prominent programming language indefinitely and wondered if Sun might one day rue the change, Rodrigues said. “Nothing ever remains on top forever,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“This seems oddly similar to companies that added an ‘e’ or a dot-com to their company name” amid the Internet boom, he added.

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