JavaOne Continues...Tools, Faces and Mobile Devices

by William Crawford

We're now most of the way through the JavaOne conference. No big news this morning, since there was no general session and, as a result, no big announcements or new themes. Mister McNealy is up tomorrow morning for the close.

Yesterday's keynote began with a comedian. The cynic buried deep within me (somewhere right next to the surface) suspects that they didn't have quite enough to fill the two hour block. Although, since it managed to run half an hour over, maybe I'm just being cynical. I suppose it made sense to get everyone into a good mood, because the demos that came next were, ah, risky.

The big deals were Project RAVE and Project Relator. RAVE is a visual JSF tool, and Relator is a visual J2ME application assembly tool. Both were very impressive--and both are very early stage. We won't see versions of either until the end of the year or early next. And that's why the demos were a bit heart-stopping: the first attempt at the RAVE application didn't quite run. The second did, and worked well, although I suspect that it would have been risky to deviate too much from the script. The speaker from SAP ("the company that provides software to the companies that you wouldn't want to work for") encountered a similar problem with his demo, which was ultimately overcome. Inadvertent comedy was thus avoided.

The delay's a shame, because Rave and tools like it are critical to Java's future success. Java, right now, is not a hit with the "departmental" developer: the legions of 4GL programmers still building most of today's business applications. Conversely, this is .NET's strongpoint: they didn't want to lose the VB developer community, and it looks like they haven't.

The other big annoucement was from HP and Dell, both of which are going to be shipping the latest JRE, standard, on all new systems. Unless, of course, customers request otherwise. But it's big news, since HP/Compaq and Dell, together, ship most PCs and laptops. The annoucement didn't, however, cover J2ME on the two companys' Windows CE palmtop offerings. This is where I'd like to see more of a push.

I had a chance to ask about this afterwards, and, according to the Sun senior executives in the room, consumer devices are expected to be the real drivers of J2ME adoption. I'll buy this, but I do think it leaves a large development segment unexploited: if the PDAs that corporate users carry can't easily run Java, then Java won't be used for corporate handheld applications. I'm a lot more excited about palmtop applications than cell phone applications: games are nice, and there are lots of ways to push information out to a cell phone, but a lot of attractive mobile applications need a bit more processing power, a bit more local storage, and a slightly larger screen.

Of course, what everyone was waiting for was James Gosling, who, as usual, didn't disappoint, even though I didn't snag one of the T-Shirts he lobs into the audience (the nearest one landed among a throng of international journalists sitting the row behind me, and that wasn't a scramble I wanted to join).

This year's demos started out with the obligatory Java-at-JPL session, followed by some interesting uses of JXTA (for monitoring bay area traffic) and J2ME (cell phones reading you directions, dynamically adjusted based on GPS). Of course, the really cool bit involved the robot: a full industrial automation demo using Auto ID and RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips to handle inventory management. The message: industrial automation isn't just for industries anymore.

Like them or not (the privacy implications may be substantial), RFID chips are going to be a big deal over the next year. Java can only benefit from being an implementing technology in this space.

RFID Scary? RAVE funny? Crawford tedious?