JAVAONE - Can Sun rejuvenate Java?

Promised technologies begin to emerge that could finally make JavaFX a more serious competitor to Flex, Silverlight, and scripting

Sun Microsystems is trying to rejuvenate Java, using the JavaOne conference last week to position the 13-year-old Java platform as a foundation for next-generation technologies in such spaces as rich Internet applications and cloud-based services.

Sun reiterated intentions first expressed at last year's JavaOne to catapult Java more into the rich Internet application space via its JavaFX technology. To follow up its words with actions, Sun rolled out a host of improvements, including video codec technology for the base Java platform, and promoted a planned cloud services platform called Project Hydrazine.

Sun also remained atop its open-source soapbox, calling itself the world's largest open-source software company.

"It looks like Sun's got a lot more vision these days," said Brad Molander, lead software engineer with National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), which provides software for utility companies. "A few years' back, I was kind of confused on what their direction was and where they're going, but with the purchase of MySQL and the effort being put into JavaFX and Swing and the rich clients again, it seems like they have a lot better vision of the future."

With JavaFX, Sun hopes to leverage the pervasiveness of the Java platform on multiple types of systems to make Sun the leader in the rich Internet application space. While this could be a tall order given the ubiquity of three alternatives -- Adobe's Flash and Flex technologies, various scripting languages, and Microsoft's neophyte Silverlight platform -- Sun executives nonetheless believe their company can dominate.

Fruits of RIA-savvy Java begin to appear

To bolster that claim, Sun showed off JavaFX capabilities, such high-level visual effects and the ability to drag an application off the browser. Java applets, those client applications that originally were supposed to be the highlight of Java years ago, will be revived with JavaFX.

Although JavaFX technologies have been available in preview forms for some developers to fiddle with, more concrete product deliverables for JavaFX aren't expected until later this year.

Project Hydrazine, which is to be available next year, features a hosting infrastructure to for Web-based services and a place for developers and designers to collaborate, said Bob Brewin, CTO of Sun's software division. Leveraging Sun's Network.com grid, Hydrazine will feature Sun's GlassFish Java application server as well as directory, identity, storage, and messaging capabilities. The MySQL database will be used as well.

Another development effort, Project Insight, is expected to be coupled with Hydrazine to give developers intelligence on who is using their services.

Sun officials hailed their deal with On2 Technologies to provide video codec technology in an upcoming update to Java. Video had been the big thing missing in the Java runtime environment, Brewin said.

Also aired at the conference were roadmaps for the Standard and Enterprise editions of Java with such improvements as OSGi support for Java Platform, Standard Edition 7 and REST-ful Web services in Java Platform, Enterprise Edition 6.

Java might be perceived in some circles as a stodgier, more complex platform than new scripting languages that have become the rage with Web developers. But rather than pit Java as a competitor to these languages, Sun continues to press forward with accommodating these languages, including Ruby and Python, on both the Java Virtual Machine and the open-source NetBeans IDE. A summit meeting about this subject is planned for September.

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