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Sun Bids For Rich Internet App Builders With JavaFX

A mobile version of JavaFX for developers for use in building applications for smartphones, handhelds, and other mobile devices is expected soon.

Charles Babcock

May 6, 2008

4 Min Read

Sun Microsystems plans to compete with Microsoft and Adobe Systems to supply the technology for the next generation of consumer-oriented Web applications with its JavaFX technology, the company said Tuesday

Consumers' choices are now driving the technologies adopted by the enterprise, said Rich Green, senior VP of software at Sun, during the opening session of JavaOne, the 13th such conference for developers and integrators, in San Francisco.

Companies doing business on the Web are looking for ways to bring down "every bit of friction in the economy. ... They're competing for you. They're competing to provide the greatest immersive experience [for the consumer] going forward," Green said.

As an example of what he meant, he called to the stage Ian Freed, VP of Kindle, the Amazon.com tablet book device. Freed illustrated how a handheld device could combine books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs by letting the user choose a format, tap a service, and receive delivery over a wireless connection. When he tried to download a book on Java, however, the volume failed to materialize after he allowed the expected minute needed to execute the download.

The same thing happened when a Sun employee, with Green looking on, tried to illustrate a new JavaFX application getting moved out of her browser window and onto the desktop, where it was expected to continue running after the drag-and-drop maneuver. Instead it stalled.

"It's the size of the pipes in the Moscone Center," Green complained. The local network wasn't up for the traffic that Sun was capable of throwing at it. A crowd of 10,000-plus chuckled as the demonstration restarted and eventually made its point. When a demo fails, "it's the Moscone terror moment," Green conceded.

"Almost all Kindle apps are powered by Java," Freed noted.

Sun wants to expand the way Java plays on the Web by adding a scripting language, JavaFX. Scripting languages tend to be easier to use than full-bore C#, C++, or Java. Languages such as Ruby, Perl, Python, and PHP have gained currency in Web applications because they are easy to apply in user interfaces and easy to change. JavaFX is another such language and compiles its simple scripting code to the same byte code that Java does. Consequently, JavaFX can run in the Java Virtual Machine anywhere Java does, including on smartphones, PCs, and servers.

Sun will introduce a mobile version of JavaFX for developers to use in building applications for smartphones, handhelds, and other mobile devices. Its runtime environment includes a time-sequence engine, like the Flash player, that allows multimedia presentations to roll in the correct sequence, with video coordinate with audio as in a movie presentation.

JavaFX presentations can be teamed up with Java back-end business logic and processing power to build more compelling Internet applications, Green pointed out. The demonstration of the new capabilities showed an employee's favorite pictures on Flickr and Facebook pulled into a swirling globe in the browser window. When an individual picture was selected, a musical theme played along with its movement.

The application was first dragged and dropped out of the browser window onto the user's desktop, then illustrated running on a Java smartphone.

"Corporate barriers are coming down. ... Information is escaping over the moat," Green warned. A toolset to help build JavaFX applications will be made available later this year, Green said in an interview after his talk, but he couldn't pinpoint when. In addition, the world's trained cadre of 6 million Java developers will feel at home using JavaFX for their back-end, server logic applications. "You can develop using NetBeans [Sun's Java toolset] or JavaBeans [Java objects or modules]," Green said.

Adobe already competes in this space with its Flash Player and Adobe Air, tools and components for building interactive applications. It has produced an Adobe Integrated Runtime for Windows, Linux, and the Macintosh to match on those platforms what the Java Virtual Machine does for JavaFX applications. Microsoft Silverlight brings the languages and tools of the .Net framework to a runtime that can be downloaded to the browser window on different platforms.

Green said he expects third parties to add tools and features to a JavaFX toolkit. JavaFX is a choice for rich Internet applications that is not directly tied to a closed, proprietary technology set, he pointed out. Java Standard Edition has been made open source by Sun, and JavaFX will be an open source technology as well.

When asked about competition from Microsoft and Adobe, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said, "We prefer not to talk about the competition. We're taking on the marketplace. Developers want to be on more devices than the other technologies run on."

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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