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

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During the keynote, Sun splashed demos showing screen renderings of the kinds of spinning, 3D spheres that for us rekindled memories of demos of the first multimedia PCs of the early 90s, and the finite element model renderings of CAD/CAM systems using souped-up graphics cards a few years before that. Some demos never change.

We also saw a demo of Java applets (remember them?) being dragged and dropped off the browser to the desktop, where you could persist them as a regular local app - which in its own weird way could be construed as Sun buying into Microsoft’s Software + Services vision blending the cloud with local client.

Ever since Sun hatched JavaFX a year ago, we wondered about why the world needed yet another multi-platform, rich-client framework, as Adobe would have proven a convenient multi-platform partner. But that was based on the dated perception of Sun viewing Microsoft as its primary rival. In fact, it’s much more nuanced picture, given (1) Sun’s and Microsoft’s interoperability détente; (2) the increasingly intense rivalry between NetBeans and Eclipse for Java development platforms; and (3) competition for the hearts and minds of Rich Internet Application developers and designers, where - for now - it’s: advantage Adobe.

And that’s where you get into a battle of lies, damn lies, and statistics. Adobe claims that the Flash Player reaches more than 98 per cent of internet-enabled desktops in “mature” economies (the number drops to 97 per cent when rest of world is factored in), compared to 84 per cent for Java. Sun counters that the JVM is on 90.7 per cent of all internet-connected desktops, plus virtually all smart phones produced within the last three years. Well not quite. The iPhone expressly omits Java support, and of course, there are Windows Smart Phones. Adobe has Flash Lite for mobile devices, but it hasn’t published studies showing killer penetration.

Nonetheless, when you parse the numbers and statements, it’s clear that Sun views Adobe as it main rival for the rich-internet client. JavaFX is Sun’s stake in the ground that the Java Runtime Environment is the place to do your multimedia, rather than the Flash plug-in. And that’s why Sun is trying to re-open the barn door on competing RIA development environments, after the Microsoft and Adobe horses have galloped out.

This article originally appeared in onStrategies.

Copyright © 2008, onStrategies.com

Tony Baer is the principal with analyst onStrategies. With 15 years in enterprise systems and manufacturing, Tony specializes in application development, data warehousing and business applications, and is the author of several books on Java and .NET.

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