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Back to the future: the Java client’s second go-round

Following the fads

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JavaOne provides a good barometer of the current fads hitting IT. Three years ago, Java discovered open source, two years ago it was AJAX, while last year was a non-event. But this year, the rich client’s back, baby.

In fact, this being our tenth JavaOne (which we covered remotely this year - too much darn travel), the spotlight on the client was déjà vu all over again. Covering our first JavaOne back in 1998, most of the booth traffic was around demos showing Java applets adding animation to word, numbers, and pictures on the browser.

Ironically, we couldn't have cared less about the animated browsers. Instead what piqued our attention was this startup company called WebLogic, which made a bet on Enterprise Java Beans before the standard was approved. More importantly, their message was, forget the animations, the true value of Java was back on the server.

You know the rest of the story. Java’s early stab at rich client fell prey to bandwidth hurdles (those were the days of dial-up) and the nagging issue of browser compatibility. The Flash runtime stole eventually the thunder, literally.

But we digress.

This year’s appearance by Neil Young set the tone: it’s all about really rich multimedia, the type of stuff where Plain Old AJAX (POA?) runs out of gas. Yes, Sun made some announcements about its open source Glassfish appserver (a new telco edition was coming out), but this year’s big announcement was the roadmap for JavaFX, the rich Java client framework that Sun first announced last year.

Thanks to Neil Young, JavaOne made the news, but the news was hardly about Java. The headlines read, Neil Young is beginning release of his entire music and video archives on Blu-ray, making it the first serious music collection to hit the new high-def DVD format.

But it was funny seeing pictures showing Sun chief executive Jonathan Schwartz barely squeezed into the frame as a rock fan. The Java connection? Java lets you have a real interactive experience with Blu-ray, rather than the rudimentary front, back, right, left navigation you get with run of the mill DVDs.

Back to JavaFX, it’s Sun’s all-Java answer to Adobe Flex/AIR and Microsoft's Silverlight. To recap, JavaFX is a programming framework for accessing the rich media capabilities that to some extent were already part of the Java SE desktop spec, plus new ones such as the streaming audio and video codecs from On2 that Sun just announced it was licensing. And with the whole deal is yet another new scripting language, JavaFX Script, which would make all the rich media capabilities of Java accessible to web designers. Just like Microsoft Silverlight, and its associated scripting languages, this is yet another play for the Adobe Dreamweaver crowd.

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