RealTime IT News

Java: Parsing Good From The Fad

BOSTON -- What's next for the Java development empire that Sun Microsystems built?

On one hand, Java has a significant footprint worldwide and has the numbers to prove it: more than five billion Java-enabled devices, a developer base of six million, and an estimated 10 million downloads of the Java Standard Edition 6 development kit, according to Sun. That doesn't include the NetBeans IDE and other products under development.

On the flip side, however, the company is still on the campaign trail when it comes to enterprise users who worry about quality assurance now that Java is officially an open source development platform.

The ebbs and tides of application trends have little direct impact on Java and its evolution, however, since it is designed to lie deep beneath the surface as an infrastructure and is quite comfortable wearing its "learn once, work anywhere" banner, said James Gosling, the "Father of Java" and technology fellow at Sun.

Gosling delivered the keynote this week at a "Sun Tech Days" event here, which pulled in roughly 400 or so programmers and Java jockeys who came to swap programming tricks and listen to the Java guru.

Despite Java's popularity, the future of its development is becoming more dependent on collaborative environments and user communities. Companies like Amazon and eBay, for example, rely on the programming language to add application substance to Web sites and portals. The Brazilian national healthcare system, described by Gosling as the "world's largest LDAP data base ," also leans on Java as an infrastructure.

To keep pace with user demands, Amazon and others use Java to construct pre-packaged libraries in order to deal with different technology platforms and user environments. There is also more emphasis on the use of thinner client systems, like Apple's iPhone, and the shift back to more centralized computing environments. "Software engineering is driven by fashion, just like any other industry," quipped Gosling.

The continued evolution of Java means moving into new, non-enterprise segments such as video games and television set-top boxes. The company's JavaFX effort squarely targets cell phones and home entertainment devices, said Gosling, pointing out there is a significant base of Java-enabled set top boxes outside the U.S.

Software applets and developing products like WebStart, which is a technology for quickly building desktop applications, are also key to Java mass market appeal, he added.

Sun is also injecting a kinder, more consumer-friendly "feel" to its more established products like NetBeans, the platform for creating cross-platform Java desktop, enterprise and Web applications. The latest beta is slated for download by next week. NetBeans 6 will include an improved editor, multi-language support, a smoother install and integration capability, and more support for Web services, he said.

Sun will also be focusing more on virtual machine environments and using Java to tie together different platforms and languages. Support for such languages as Ruby, XML and even COBOL and Fortran are also keys to the future of Java, he added. "They can actually talk to each other through the underlying semantic framework that allows them to work together and play to their different strengths."