Java's Desktop Role, Tools For Developers In Spotlight

Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, IBM and first-time exhibitor JBoss are among the Java industry heavyweights launching new products and developer resources at the show.

This year's unofficial theme seems to be "everything old is new again," underscoring issues that have concerned Java developers for several years"such as Java on the desktop, open-source technologies and the complexity of Java programming.

"Java has been around for a few years, but it's still relatively young as a language," said Mike Taylor, president of Portland, Ore.-based software development shop Instantations, explaining why many problems that were present in the technology's early days still haven't been ironed out in the nine years Java has existed.

"I think the reason the enterprise Java platform seems to be in a holding pattern is that feature growth has slowed as vendors are concentrating on making their platforms more stable, scalable and easy to use and manage," said Alex Burdenko, senior architect for Back Bay Technologies, Needham, Mass.

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Both Sun and JBoss will move to help facilitate adoption of Java on the desktop, which has failed to take off like server-side Java. The technology has been plagued by performance problems, and vendors have taken a renewed interest in tackling those issues.

For example, Sun and the Java Community Process (JCP) intend to release this week the latest desktop Java standard, J2SE 1.5, code-named Tiger. Sun is rebranding the standard J2SE 5.0 to "signal to the market that this is a significant release," said Ingrid van den Hoogen, vice president of brand experience and community marketing at Sun.

The update includes revisions to the Java language such as generics, metadata support and static import, van den Hoogen said. It also improves performance in both startup times and runtimes to better support rich client applications.

Sun also will release the much-ballyhooed Java Studio Creator product, a GUI-based tool aimed at corporate developers. The tool costs $99 per developer, per year, but is free with support and updates if developers pay $99 to sign up to a new level of registration on the Sun Developer Network, called Sun Developer Network, Standard Edition.

JBoss, Atlanta, also will introduce a new project aimed at improving the performance of desktop Java applications called the Rich Client Framework, said CEO Marc Fleury. The project is the flagship one in the company's new JBoss Labs effort, which will also be publicly unveiled at JavaOne. JBoss Labs will focus on technology research "like Sun Labs or IBM Research, but on a more modest scale," Fleury said. The Rich Client Framework looks and feels like a normal browser, yet allows many traditional back-end application functions to run locally on the client.

Open-source efforts also will be on display. BEA will disclose that Instantations is building a plug-in that allows developers using the open-source Eclipse framework to leverage Project Beehive, the open-source version of BEA WebLogic Workshop's application framework. A beta of the plug-in is due in the fall, said Dave Cotter, BEA's director of developer marketing. The full release is due in early 2005. The news, however, does not signal that BEA is joining the Eclipse effort, which spun off from IBM earlier this year.

For its part, Sun intends to open-source Project Looking Glass, a 3-D version of its Java Desktop System, as well as a Looking Glass developer kit and Java 3D, a Java API that allows for 3-D visualization.

JBoss was also readying the industry's first fully compatible J2EE open-source application servers. The more than 20,000 required J2EE compatibility tests were about 95 percent complete, but it was unclear whether or not engineers would finish the tests by the show, Fleury said.

In other announcements aimed at making Java development easier, IBM plans to release new resources about how to leverage Java to develop service-oriented-architectures (SOAs) on its developerWorks Web services zone.

A prototype related to the JCP's Enterprise Javabeans (EJB) 3.0 project will be shown at the JBoss booth.

Sun also is touting two new professional certifications and training programs: Sun Certified Mobile Application Developer for Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition; and the Sun Certified Developer for Java Web Services.

For more on JavaOne see CRN.