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Sun Java chief to developers: 'We're genetic freaks'

Time to change your definition of 'application'

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JavaOne Todd Fast, chief architect in Sun Microsystems' Java Enterprise tools group, took a big gulp of Web 2.0 Kool-Aid at JavaOne while telling professional developers they must embrace a broader definition of "application" if they are to take advantage of the current sea change in the way software is built and delivered.

Fast told a packed session - Applications for the masses by the masses: why engineers are an endangered species - the application development model is changing, opening up to a broader audience, thanks to new tools and platforms that support non-engineers, or "casual developers."

Exponentially more applications are being built today, thanks to these developers and the accessibility of so-called social platforms, such as Facebook, which are driving this sea change. And a new generation of tools that raises the level of abstraction is allowing these novices to accomplish useful things.

"Look around you," Fast told his audience. "Most people are not like you and me. Engineers are at the edge of the population curve. We're genetic freaks. We have above average intelligence, above average ability to abstract - we like things like 'Monty Python.'

"We hate imprecision. We don't dress very well, generally speaking. And we're all in here instead of out dating, partying, or doing something more interesting. Look, if you had nothing better to do today, you're not normal."

The growing population of casual developers is not like this, apparently. They don't even think of themselves as developers. Fast trotted out the usual demographic touchstones to prove his point: the majority are under thirty, tend to be students, and use Twitter, Flickr and iPhones, consuming and producing information at a higher rate than the generation before them.

"That means that application development, application usage, content creation, content consumption, and culture all merge. Increasingly, apps are a way of life, and it's the casual developers who are building out the next-generation Web, not us."

We've had the mash-up pitch before, not least from Sun. But rather than preach conversion, like some in the Web 2.0 world, Fast said professional development has a role. You just need to embrace a broader definition of what is meant by "application".

"The traditional view of applications is that they solve other people's use cases. They're big. They're hard to develop. They take a long time to build. And they live a long time - forever, hopefully. And only people like us can build them," Fast said.

"But applications come in lots of shapes and sizes," he added. "SAP: huge application. Amazon.com: massive. Then there are others in the middle: Office productivity suites and things like that. Then there are apps that are really small. Unix shell scripts can be considered applications by this definition. Widgets, a little piece of UI you stick on your blog, can be considered an application."

And therein apparently lies one opportunity for the professional developers. Social networks are becoming viral distribution channels for new applications and software updates.

In this world, it seems the expert software developers also play more of an enabling role by building the underlying platforms and taking the technology into new directions, in terms of performance and scale. As new platforms emerge supporting more and more casual application development, the weekend warriors will find they come to rely on the real codederos to build the hard stuff that lets them do the easy stuff.

Sounds like the revenge of the professional developer class.®

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