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Sun Adds a Little Zip to Java

After a lengthy gestation, the faster version of Java that Sun Microsystems has been promising, is finally here. They company first talked about it prior to the 2007 JavaOne conference as the answer to make its planned JavaFX client side technology feasible.

As it has grown in complexity over the years, Java has grown in size. Today, visiting a Web page that uses Java (not JavaScript) often results in a 20-second delay or more while Java loads.

JavaFX was first introduced in mid-2007 as a rich client technology that would offer an Ajax-like experience but in just a few lines of Java code, rather than having to write all that JavaScript and XML code. It would clearly compete with Ajax and rich Internet application (RIA) technologies like Adobe's AIR and Microsoft's Silverlight.

When Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) introduced JavaFX in a preview release earlier this year, both James Gosling, the creator of Java, and Rich Green, executive vice president of software at Sun, acknowledged that Java as it stood was too bloated and slow to be an effective client-side technology. That would be addressed with "Update N," a new version of Java Standard Edition 6.

Sun posted the release, officially dubbed Java SE 6 Update 10, last night for general availability. It features a more modular kernel for faster loads, a rewritten browser plug-in and new updating technologies.

Rich Internet Appications a main driver

"We changed a lot of runtime deployment attributes and really focused on reinvigorating Java as a platform for consumer content," Danny Coward, chief architect in the client software group told InternetNews.com. "I think the desire for RIAs is the main driver of this release, and it's also the underpinnings of our JavaFX release." The official, public release of JavaFX is expected by the end of this year.

The improved start time is thanks to a two-pronged fix: the first is Java Quick Starter, an enhanced runtime to speed start time, and the new Java Kernel, which was rewritten to be less monolithic. Instead of having to load the full 13.5 megabyte kernel, just a 4.5 megabyte kernel is loaded, and other pieces are loaded as needed.

The result is startup is down to as low as two seconds, as opposed to an average of eight seconds for load and startup, according to Coward.

Update 10 also includes a completely rewritten Java plug-for browsers that will be much faster, more secure, and will allow consumers to drag and drop applets from a browser onto their desktop; that applet will run just like a locally-installed application. This new plug-in lets applets run in their own processes, so if one crashes, or is malicious, it won't affect the rest of the system.

Sun has also revised the Java Deployment Toolkit so installing Java applets or Java Web Start programs will be much easier, and the Deployment Toolkit will ensure that the appropriate and latest version of the JRE is currently installed.

Finally. Sun has improved the graphics performance to leverage Microsoft's Direct3D graphics library, to utilize it for simple fills and copies, to translucency, gradients, arbitrary transformations and other more advanced 2D operations.

Michael Cote, analyst with Redmonk, said the performance improvements are notable, but that won't be what helps JavaFX compete with AIR and Silverlight. "Sure, [the performance improvements] are a necessary thing, but it doesn't cause the overall success of it. That's more a marketing and community thing to make that happen," he told InternetNews.com.

But in terms of technology, he said this release is much faster than older versions. "The goal is to make it a much slimmer thing, much faster to update it. From what I've seen of it, it does seem to be an improvement," he said.

Cote added that JavaFX is really what counts. "The foundation of your house is never fascinating, it's the house you build on top of it. When JavaFX comes out, what Sun and other people do with it will be the real interesting stuff," he said.