Sun on rejunvenation path with Java

Building and expanding the language is goal. Paul Krill reports

Sun Microsystems used the recent JavaOne conference to position the 13-year-old Java platform as a foundation for next-generation technologies.

The company 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.

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.

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 grid, Hydrazine will feature Sun's GlassFish Java application server as well as directory, identity, storage, and messaging capabilities. The MySQL database will also be used.

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.

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.

Sun plans to promote JavaFX for both consumer and enterprise apps in an effort to get Java out of the enterprise pigeonhole it has long been in. Content and services must not be constrained to the enterprise but have to spread to consumer applications, too, said Rich Green, Sun's executive vice president of software. "Information is now crossing the moat, escaping the castle," he said.

While Sun can be commended for giving users a choice in the rich internet application space, more attention should be paid to enabling Java to work very well with existing technologies, said Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource and founder of the popular Spring Framework for Java development. "I do think Flex is very entrenched and I certainly think there should be more emphasis probably from Sun and also vendors like us in working with Adobe technologies," he said.

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