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2008: Decision Year for RIAs - October 20-22, 2008 San Jose


A Hobbled Sun Limps to the RIA Starting Gate
It's supposed to unify Java technology across all devices

It's a wonder it has the entry fee, but Sun Thursday showed up for the RIA race against Adobe's Flex, Flash, and AIR and Microsoft's Silverlight - and for that matter the open source AJAX - riding JavaFX 1.0.

According to Sun it's one of the most significant advances ever to come out of its stable.

Once called JavaFX Desktop 1.0, it was at least two years in the making.

The widgetry is free so there's no immediate hope that it will relieve Sun's perilous revenue crisis, which has lately demanded the sacrifice of almost 20% of its staff, around 6,000 people.

In fact, some folks are surprised the FX effort has so far survived the headman's axe.

It's well behind Adobe, which is well down the rich Internet application (RIA) track, and Microsoft, the contender.

And different parts of the FX software, once supposed to be integral to one another, have now been shunted into different units in the latest Sun reorg.

However, this is Sun and Sun inhabits a world of its own. Maybe it doesn't matter that FX and NetBeans are in different divisions even if FX is supposed to plug into the NetBeans IDE or that Java lost the battle for the desktop years ago.

Anyway, since FX is a Java thing, Sun expects to exploit the fact that there are 800 million desktops out there with Java on them - well, okay, JavaScript built into the browser - along with a couple billion Java-based cell phones all yearning for more expressive RIA applications with high-fidelity audio and video, rich text, vector graphics, animation and Web Services - your basic immersive media capabilities.

FX is supposed to overcome Java's verbose limitations in creating RIA apps that run in browsers thanks to a tight new declarative-cum-programmatic scripting language called JavaFX Script, designed for graphics professionals and said to be reminiscent of JavaScript.

It's also supposed to win over a new class of user: Java-challenged designers and content authors.

It's supposed to appeal to content providers on the theory voiced by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz that "browsers have become hostile environments" controlled by Microsoft and Google.

And it is supposed to clean up the mess created by the mobile phone makers who ignored the Java commandment "write once, run everywhere," and forked the darn thing into myriad incompatible versions.

It's supposed to unify Java technology across all devices - desktops, laptops, phones, TVs, Amazon's Kindle - although Sun unfortunately isn't supposed to have the first version of JavaFX for Mobile until spring - roughly 18 months late.

Gee and Sun will be able to charge phone makers a royalty for JavaFX unless they're off selling Android or iPhones.

Oh, well, at least developers can preview their mobile applications on the JavaFX mobile emulator released Thursday.

And developers shouldn't have to write different apps for different media. JavaFX has a cool Java Update 10-derived Drag-to-Install feature that will let end users simply drag-and-drop JavaFX apps from their browsers to their desktops and back for the first time ever. The same application should run on mobile phones.

JavaFX 1.0 has three components: a JavaFX Development Environment, a JavaFX Production Suite, and a JavaFX Desktop.

The Development Environment includes a compiler and runtime tools, graphics, media, Web services, and rich text libraries, along with NetBeans 6.5 and plug-ins for both NetBeans and Eclipse.

The Production Suite is a set of tools and plug-ins that's supposed to dramatically reduce production times.

Single-click conversion for media formats lets graphics assets from design programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator be incorporated into JavaFX apps.

With the Production Suite, developers can collaborate with graphic designers through a simple exchange of media assets. The resulting applications are supposed to maintain a consistent look-and-feel across all browsers on multiple platforms.

The Desktop leverages the main features in Java Standard Edition (Java SE) 6 Update 10 like the Drag-to-Install facility.

JavaFX's cross-platform video support is coming from On2 Technologies' video codecs.

Sun says hopefully that it will continue to evolve JavaFX for desktop and browser in future releases and plans to deliver JavaFX for TV somewhere down the road.

It's got code samples and applications, tutorials, articles, and documentation at http://www.javafx.com.

Developers can download JavaFX 1.0 at http://www.javafx.com.

About Maureen O'Gara
Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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