Sun's JavaFX consumer pitch falls on confused ears
Give us meat and potatoes, not video!
Sun Microsystems is once again flogging the consumer pony and talking of monetizing "volume markets" to rally developers to JavaFX , its foray into rich internet applications (RIAs).
Early feedback, though, suggests Sun should focus JavaFX for use among its audience of enterprise customers and stop trying to take on Adobe Systems or Apple on PCs, phones, and gadgets.
Sun chief executive Jonathan Schwartz told a San Francisco launch event Thursday night JavaFX would let them build a one-to-one relationship with consumers that they can monetize. His is the language of years past, when Sun talked of a rising tide for all Java vendors and embraced Web 2.0 and social networks for start-ups using Sun servers and tools.
JavaFX can reach consumers through PCs, TV, phones, set-top-boxes, and even your BMW dashboard, because they all run Java and most have a screen of some kind. Java powered devices are the most prolific devices on earth and are in the hands of consumers, which are - themselves - the heart of the market Sun serves, Schwartz claimed. Sun's core customers are actually banks and service providers, and it only touches consumers vicariously at best.
The browsers that these devices are increasingly running, though, are not the right way to deliver entertainment or other online content to consumers, thanks to the machinations of the browser vendors. Instead, the browser should be used on simply as a download mechanism, Schwartz said.
"A variety of technology companies have begun to use the browser and view the browser as a way to advance their own business as opposed to create an ecosystem," Schwartz said.
"As we talk to those content owners and authors where they own sport franchises or media companies or entertainment companies, they've said to us very clearly the browser is hostile territory. We need a neutral technology platform that lets us bypass the browser or lets us use it for what it's best at: distribution."
Browser power struggle
Schwartz did not explain his comments after, instead leaving quickly following a brief tour of the six or so partners demoing JavaFX applications at the San Francisco event.
Historically, banks, entertainment companies, and service providers - Sun customers, in other words - have been uncomfortable using Windows in their customer applications and services because one company - Microsoft - controls the platform and its roadmap. Also, Microsoft has wanted its logo and the Windows "experience" to dominate at the expense of the content creators' branding.
Those same organizations sound like they are getting twitchy again, as Microsoft builds a plug in for Internet Explorer and Firefox called Silverlight for users to view media but that is - again - controlled by Microsoft.
For these Sun customers, already running Java elsewhere in their organizations and that therefore have Java skills, JavaFX could provide a Silverlight escape route. That's if they haven't heard of Adobe, that is.
Schwartz went on to demonstrate an application built using JavaFX called Foxbox and running nine simultaneous video streams on a desktop. The audio you heard depended on the video feed underneath your cursor at that time. Schwartz then dragged the application out of the browser onto the desktop, where it can live and be opened up by the user next time without going through the browser.
This was important for two reasons: first it demonstrated the speed of JavaFX. "We have the hottest performing VM in the market. By leveraging that we can present nine video streams simultaneously without saturating the CPU," Schwartz said.
He did not provide performance stats, again sticking to broad claims, while Sun after said it's not yet releasing data. That means all we've got to go on is Sun's word and the observations of independent observers like Reg regular Tim Anderson .
Bypassing the Browser
Second, and to Schwartz's point, the demo showed the browser being cut out of the relationship between the content provider and the customer as the application was dragged to the desktop where it could be activated later minus the browser. "We give you the capacity to get to the user once, return to the user, and make sure nobody else gets in the way of that relationship," Sun's CEO said.
For one attendee, though, Sun is being too focused on the flashy stuff like video. It's ignoring a market where JavaFX could really clean up - the enterprise - by following Adobe and Apple with demos of video on the desktop.
Speaking anonymously, he said Sun should focus on meat and potatoes work, such as rebuilding Oracle product management lifecycle (PLM) systems - as his company has done using other technologies - with JavaFX. The enterprise is, after all, where Java's strongest thanks to the server and where the existing skills live. The enterprise, from his company's experience, is where the money also lives - not in more flashy video services.
"They [Sun] can't decide if they want to do consumer things or meat and potatoes," the attendee told us. "The business demonstration was flashy - you don't have to be flashy. You just have to solve simple business problems," he said.
Another event attendee went further. Based on what he'd seen, he told The Reg it was difficult to see what JavaFX offers in RIAs that's better or different to Adobe with Flash and AIR, or Apple with QuickTime and iTunes.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said if JavaFX genuinely solves a problem such as - as Sun has claimed - providing the same development model across different devices then that could be an advantage. Or, if it does offer "dramatically higher performance" - as suggested but not proved - that could also work. "There needs to be some thing it does better than anybody else," he said. Alas, though, it "wasn't clear to me what was different, what's unique or different from other RIA platforms."
Where to use JavaFX is not Sun's only problem. It seems Sun has, after two years, delivered something that still needs work. The virtual machine might be fast, and - by being fast - finally address more than a decade's worth of slow Java on the PC, but JavaFX is big as downloads go while the tools incomplete, according to Anderson .
Elephant in the room
No wonder when Adobe worries about the RIA competition, it's Microsoft and its Silverlight browser-based plug in for media that concerns  Adobe not Sun or JavaFX.
And whether Sun and the audience knew it or not, there was one big fat contradiction sitting in the room. According to Schwartz, PC-based access to the internet is a North American and Western European phenomena. The rest of the world's logging on, viewing and downloading using phones and other non-PC devices. If that's the case then, why was he showing us video on the desktop, rather than wheeling out the future: JavaFX for mobile?
Because Sun doesn't yet have JavaFX for mobile, so it had to demo what it did have - contradiction or no contradiction, old school or not. The mobile part is coming next Spring - more than a year after it was initially promised.
Where does JavaFX go after that? Eric Klein, vice president of Java marketing, committed to laying out the full JavaFX roadmap at Sun's annual JavaOne conference, next June in San Francisco. ®