JavaOne and the Future of Conferences

by William Crawford

Not much time to do a detailed JavaOne rundown right now. This is partially the because I honestly haven't had time to assimilate the various signs and portents, and I don't have much interest in just recounting the announcements, which you can see anywhere. Speculating on the future of Sun, Java, the technology industry, and so forth, is a chicken-entrail reading activity, and extrapolations based on trade shows are about as accurate. Nonetheless, I will get around to it eventually.

One thing that did strike me was that the exhibitor floor was smaller. Sun's space is larger than in previous years, and it does appear that they're showing everything up to and including the kitchen sink, in what definitely appears to be an attempt to bulk up the show. Tools and infrastructure vendors who filled massive amounts of space in the past are absent completely or massively reduced in scope. So it's tempting to take a look around and say that things must be going pretty badly.

I suspect that's not the case, though. Shows like JavaOne are geared towards developers, so the logical exhibitors are the vendors of development and deployment tools. There's been some commoditization in this space, which has reduced the number of players, and trade shows aren't how vendors reach a development audience anymore - Google is. So the return on investment for a bid JavaOne presence may be, for all but the biggest players, not the best of all possible deals. Comdex, you'll note, was cancelled this year - the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the technology world. But Comdex was an exhibitor oriented show, and things just don't work that way anymore.

The Java community itself is vibrant enough, and my rough eyeball estimate of people in the keynote session showed as many as last year, at least. Sun has some interesting things to say about the development of the Java ecosystem (surprise! it's growing!). So the developer base is still there. Back in May I spoke at the ServerSide.com Symposium, which was entirely presentation driven: no exhibition floor at all. I suspect that's the way of the future, rather than a floor full of vendor reps.