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JavaOne 2008: Chris Keene's Prescription for Curing the Java Flu

I attended the JavaOne show last week, after a 4 year gap

At WaveMaker, we have hitched our wagon to Java so I hope very much that JavaOne is showing us the ghost of Java present, not the ghost of Java to come. The Sun promise to put Java runtimes everywhere is meaningless if nobody wants to develop for those runtimes. Adobe and Microsoft are doing a far better job making their tools simple enough for mere mortals and focusing on the presentation layer.


I attended the JavaOne show this week, after a 4 year gap. What a difference - who knew Java could be so boring? On the other hand, this is what it feels like to go to a show for a technology that has lost half of its market share in the last 4 years (at least when measured by O'Reilly book sales - not a particularly reliable source but better than no source at all). If you don't like that source, check out Andi Gutman's recent post that Java is losing the battle for the modern web.



Let me be clear here - at WaveMaker, we have hitched our wagon to Java and hope very much that JavaOne is showing us the ghost of Java present, not the ghost of Java to come.

Trade shows in general have been eviscerated by the flood of technical information on the web. But even in the new "I'm only here for the Tchotchkes" world of conference attendees, this was a surprisingly desultory affair.

Aisle after aisle was populated almost solely by people in ugly sports shirts wearing a vacant gaze that we all reserve for particularly humiliating situations. In fact, the only booth which seemed to have any mojo was the - you guessed it - schwag booth from Sun.

This morning, I found out what was wrong. I got one of those delightful ALL CAPS emails from JavaOne informing me that we had all been the subject of a viral attack by the dreaded Norovirus. So that was it!

There is something seriously wrong, not just with JavaOne, but with Java. After 10 years, Java remains an extremely complex development environment with nothing even approaching an easy learning curve. Microsoft has gleefully filled this vacuum, driving a vast J2EE to .Net migration at the low end of the market that nobody in the Java world seems willing to acknowledge.

The Sun promise to put Java runtimes everywhere is meaningless if nobody wants to develop for those runtimes. Adobe and Microsoft are doing a far better job making their tools simple enough for mere mortals and focusing on the presentation layer.

The news at the show was that Sun's front end technology, JavaFX, was *still* not ready. The world needs Sun to stand behind one of the 200+ Ajax frameworks already out there, not create yet another one. While we're at it, why can't they just put more effort into an Ajax toolkit they have already "partnered" with, like Dojo?

Here is my prescription for curing the Java Flu:
  1. Fight for the low end: in modern warfare, death may come from above. In technology, death comes from below. Ten years from now, who will have more power over IT - web designers or core developers? If Microsoft and Adobe win the designers today, Java developers will be the Cobol developers of tomorrow.

  2. Make Java easier: something is wrong when very useful but also very complex code frameworks like Spring are considered the "easy" way to do Java development. Java needs to be easy enough for your mother to build her web-based phone list with it. I'm talking Hypercard/Filemaker/Access easy.

  3. Make Java prettier: just put a bullet in JavaFX and adopt something with momentum like Dojo or Ext. If you just can't stomach Javascript, then adopt GWT.

  4. Make Java fun: can't do this without doing the first three items. For an example of one attempt to make Java easy, check out the WaveMaker download.
Remember when people built cool web apps with Java? When was the last time you heard about a cool web app that wasn't written in Rails or PHP? OK, people still build lots of cool stuff in Java, but the love is gone and it's just a day job now.


More Stories By Christopher Keene

Christopher Keene is Chairman and CEO of WaveMaker (formerly ActiveGrid). He was the founder, in 1991, of Persistence Software, a San Mateo, CA-based company that created a new approach for managing data in high-transaction banking and communications systems. Persistence Software investors included Cisco, Intel, Reuters and Sun Microsystems. The company went public in 1999 on the NASDAQ exchange and was sold in 2004 to Progress software.

After leaving Persistence Software in 2005, Chris spent a year in France as chairman of Reportive Software, a Paris-based maker of business-intelligence tools, and as an adjunct professor and entrepreneur-in-residence at INSEAD, a leading graduate business school.

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