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5/8/2008
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Rocker Neil Young Steals Limelight At JavaOne

Neil Young is using Java to create a multimedia musical archive of his work, updatable with new material and accessible to millions.

Neil Young, the famous songwriter from the 1960s and '70s, who has remained productive through contemporary times, is building a musical archive that he hopes both his aging fans and future generations will buy to learn of his work.

Young appeared on stage at the opening of JavaOne Tuesday, and amidst the rehearsed lines, it was clear he was genuinely grateful to the originators of Java and Java developers who have enabled something that he longed to create since the 1980s: a multimedia presentation of his work, updatable with new material as it's found, and accessible to millions.

"Thank you, Java; thank you, Sun," said Young as his appearance on stage neared its close, and the "Rockin' In The Free World" refrain from his song of the same name started to play. It was perhaps a good choice as Sun Microsystems tries to emphasize its transition to a free and open source software company.

Young will soon issue the first disc in a five-volume edition containing the record of his work dating back to 1963, when he was an instrumentalist and member of the Buffalo Springfield band. He thanked Java because it is the software that runs Blu-ray players, and his archival work will appear on Blu-ray format discs.

In February, Toshiba, a major manufacturer of HD DVD players, announced it was abandoning the format and switching to Blu-ray, named for the short-wavelength, blue laser light that is instrumental in increasing the disc's data-carrying capacity. Java became the software standard for Blu-ray players in 2005. The end to the competition between HD DVD and Blu-ray allowed Young to go forward with his project.

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz and executive VP for software Rich Green appeared on stage with Young and one of Young's business partners, Larry Johnson. At one point, the four men unrolled a 30-foot scroll listing all of Young's songs, scripts, and other works. "You've been a busy man," said Schwartz.

Schwartz seemed to prefer the endorsement of his shaggy-haired guest, his face barely visible behind the wrap-around sun glasses beneath a baseball cap pulled down on his head, to that of another vendor.

When Young walked on the stage, he urged Schwartz to stay, saying, "I don't know what I'm doing."

Schwartz moved to his side, clasped him on the shoulder, and said, "I think you do know. You are very much among friends here."

Perhaps Young had witnessed the earlier live demonstrations of JavaFX, both of which froze in their tracks and needed to be restarted. "We're going to give a demo," announced Young, "and it's going to work because it's fake [recorded]."

After that, he never looked back. He launched into a description of his archive project and Johnson flashed samples on the screen of early pictures, news stories, and reviews of Young's work. At one point, looking at his earlier self in fringed buckskin, Young said, "I wouldn't buy a record from that guy."

One of the features of the archive demonstrated that new material could be added to the Blu-ray discs after purchase through Internet download. As Young scrolled over the material, a colored push pin appeared and pinned itself to a picture as the cursor approached. "There, that's the new material," Young pointed out. "Java allows you to do that."

Some of his best-known songs include "Heart Of Gold"; "Ohio," recorded within weeks of the Kent State shootings of four students in 1970; "Southern Man"; and "After The Gold Rush."

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