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Sun clarifies client-side Java strategy (sort of)

'Filthy rich internet applications'

Java

Sun has given the world a (slightly) better idea of what's on the way from client-side Java.

This evening, in the lead-up to a dev-tastic cocktail party in downtown San Francisco, James Gosling and other Sun insiders talked up several new pieces of the Java puzzle, and though most of the chat was a rehash of previous announcements, they did leak a few details the company hadn't leaked in the past.

Golsing and company are prepping developers for an updated version of Sun's overarching JavaSE 6 platform and the debut of two technologies tagged with the JavaFX moniker. You know, JavaFX - Sun's umbrella term for tools dedicated to so-called "rich internet applications".

Sun first announced its JavaFX family of products at the JavaOne developers conference this spring. Eventually, the name will extend to all sorts of tools for building and running rich internet applications (RIAs) - browser apps that behave like desktop apps. But at the moment, only two are in the works: JavaFX Mobile and JavaFX Script.

"JavaFX really is a marketing term for a set of activities," said Gosling, Java's founding father. "It will extend to all the consumer-facing work we're doing - which is all based on open source technologies - and it's a big part of our effort to converge development on the JavaSE specification."

As JavaSE client architect Chet Haase explained, JavaFX Mobile and JavaFX Script will "sit on top of" JavaSE, expanding the scope of applications that run on the platform.

Gosling called JavaFX Mobile "a complete, desktop-scale operating environment for mobile phones" that provides "better interaction with phone hardware". Meanwhile, JavaFX Script is a scripting language used to build apps not only for this mobile environment but also for desktops and other devices.

Both are focused on RIAs that include everything from audio and video to graphics and animation. Or as Haase called them, "filthy rich applications".

Timetables for these technologies are still a bit sketchy, but Sun did provide a few juicy details about the upcoming update to JavaSE 6. Known as "Update N", the new release will arrive "in the next few months", and a beta version is due in December.

As Sun has said before, it will provide faster installation, faster startup, and better graphics performance. But the big news is that it will also include a brand new Java plug-in for Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, and the Firefox 3 alpha. Support for Firefox 2 will come later.

According to Ken Russell, a member of the Java SE deployment team, this is a "ground up rewrite of the Java plug-in". He says it will offer "better scripting support", "improved reliability", "better Windows Vista support", and a new feature that gives enterprises the power to ensure that a particular application is always handled by the same version of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE).

"This is for enterprises who don't have time to vet their applications on every version of Java we ship," Russell said. "It lets them target the same version each time the app is run."

Gosling also said that company is developing a set of tools to facilitate the interaction between developers and "designers." "Developers went to university and took computer science classes," he explained. "Designers took art classes." Essentially, these tools will make it easier for designers to work on Java apps without delving into hardcore code. ®

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