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Sun Unveils New Scripting Language, JavaFX, To Reach Consumers

Knowledge workers, Web designers, and other nonprogrammers will be targeted to use JavaFX tools to generate user interfaces tied into Java applications running on servers.
In the opening keynote of the annual JavaOne show, Sun Microsystems launched a "preview" version of a new scripting language, JavaFX, that it expects will help Sun reach a new generation of content creators on the Internet.

The move is a first step by Sun beyond Java toward the new, lighter technologies that have come to dominate Web development.

JavaFX will make it easier to build Web applications with highly interactive user interfaces. Its author, Sun employee Chris Oliver, demonstrated the language in front of a large Moscone Center crowd in San Francisco on Tuesday. He showed a variety of JavaFX-induced responses as his cursor moved over icons on the page of a demonstration application.

The classic rollover response is for an object to change color or brightness. With JavaFX, the objects showed movement or a pop-up effect, and clicking on an icon caused a single element to zoom up to fill the screen's center as others faded out.

"Our new focus is on consumers and multimedia. JavaFX is the first of a new family of consumer-facing products and technologies," said Rich Green, Sun's executive VP for software, who gave the keynote and marshaled JavaFX's creator, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, and even Sun chairman Scott McNealy onto the stage to support the initiative. Scripting languages with their English-like syntax are typically easier to use than Java and the C class of languages, such C and C++. A set of them has grown up rapidly with the advent of Web applications, including Perl, Python, PHP, and Ruby. Green made it clear that Sun wishes to move beyond its traditional community of programming language developers.

"We have a plan to create a complete line of content-creation tools" based on JavaFX, Green told the crowd. Knowledge workers, Web designers, and other nonprogrammers will be targeted to use JavaFX tools to generate strong user interfaces that Green expects will be tied into Java applications running on servers.

In doing so, Sun is catching the scripting language fever after declaring for several years that Java couldn't be replaced by such languages as Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby. Indeed, it can't -- on the server, where Java applications remain the language's strong suit. But as rich Internet applications catch on, giving the user more control over what information she is given or responding with data to the direction in which the user wants to go has become the province of scripting languages.

An older scripting language, JavaScript, is the active ingredient in Ajax, on which Google Maps and many other first-generation, browser interactive applications have been based. JavaFX, however, will be more closely integrated with Java's Standard Edition than JavaScript is, Green said. Sun's JavaFX will have to compete with Ajax and JavaScript, already implemented in graphical user interface tools from vendors such as Tibco, Adobe's Macromedia unit, and Backbase B.V.

Scripting languages are also called dynamic languages because they're compiled as the user runs them, allowing last-minute changes to take effect immediately rather than needing a time-consuming step of putting the source code through a compiler. The more informal nature and last-minute "interpretation" of the languages makes them suited for browser interactions.

Tesla Motors, a luxury electric sports car site, at www.teslamotors.com was built using JavaFX, although many of its effects are visible on secondary pages, such as www.teslamotors.com/styling/body.php, rather than the home page.