JavaOne Wrap up: See you next year?

As I sit here listening to my final JavaOne presentation there’s one question that has lingered on everyone’s mind this week: Will there be a JavaOne next year? In case you’ve been living in a cave (or a basement coding), Oracle has purchased Sun, the creators and maintainers of the Java programming language, and Oracle has a history of rebranding and reorganizing companies it has acquired.

Despite Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, appearing on stage at the key note address, I and other attendees such as Tim Bray, can’t help get the feeling this will be the last JavaOne. Let me state right now I do not have any solid facts either way; Sun and Oracle have been purposely tight-lipped about it. This article is more about the current climate of the conference from a developer perspective and some wrap up thoughts.

For starters, the most consistent comments I’ve heard all week from alumni that have attended the conference for years, is that the conference is significantly diminished in size this year. Perhaps its the state of the economy or perhaps its the state of trade shows in the industry as a whole, but one way or another, attendance and vendor presence feels trickled down at best, deserted at worst. In fact, as one attendee pointed out this morning, Sun filled many of the Pavilion booths with its own company products. Whether it was the Sun Cloud, Sun Open Solaris, the Sun Java Store, Sun’s Duke awards, Sun’s Drizzle, etc, it felt like nearly half the booths were populated with Sun employees. That’s not to say there weren’t some good vendors and demos (JBoss, Intel, Microsoft, BlackBerry … Apple still missing in action), but it definitely felt like many vendors chose to skip the show. Given Java’s open community roots, its quite possible Oracle will keep the JavaOne showing going, if only to keep the community pleased, but its hard to say for sure. I guess we’ll have to all wait and see.

Some wrap up notes about the show:

1. Java FX: One of the two big buzz words from the show was definitely JavaFX, which is sort of like a 3D/advanced graphics version of Swing that is theoretically easier to use. I say “theoretically” because I have been hard pressed to find one attendee who’s used it in a production system. Also, from what I’ve heard from other attendees the mantra “JavaFX is the future of Java UI” is a bell they’ve been ringing for 2+ years now with little coming to fruition. Sun demo-ed an easy-to-use JavaFX builder tool but the tool will not be released until end of the year at the earliest. My take on it, shared by other members of the conference I’ve spoken with, is that Sun has been so slow to get JavaFX out the door, other technologies are already light years ahead and currently used in production systems.

2. Cloud Computing: The other big buzz word of the show was cloud computing. Sun, like Google, Amazon and a dozen other companies, has started its own cloud computing system for running and storing your applications, and you couldn’t trip over a booth this year without seeing the word cloud somewhere. For those not familiar with cloud computing, its really just a fancy word for a set of virtualized servers, in which the developer knows nothing of the underlying hardware. Turns out this website has existed ‘in a cloud’ for years; who knew? The cloud topics were actually interesting since the hardware has finally caught up such that virtualization isn’t as costly as it once was so I look forward to more advances in cloud computing.

3. The Java Store: One of the more disappointing presentations was unveiling of The Java store. For starters, it felt derivative right off the bat, following Apple’s iPhone store, BlackBerry’s Store, Verizon’s Store,… the list goes on and on. Second, at its launch there’s no way to charge users for applications, everything’s free and the pricing model is undecided. How does Sun expect to encourage developers to contribute their own time if they have no idea how they will be reimbursed? They should have thought that out and implemented a pricing model in the very first version of the store, beta or otherwise.

Third, the beta was far from impressive. I had to sign up for a beta account, wait to be approved to access it (why do you need approval to use it if everything is free?), and using it was painful. I received 6-8 pop-up “Are you sure?” and “Do you trust X?” questions while installing, using the store, and installing the applications. Lastly, this is the first program on a Mac where dragging and dropping the application icon to the trash can does not actually uninstall it. The application icon you see is just a complicated link to the files that have been downloaded to your classpath. In other words, you have to use the Java Store to uninstall applications. This is another area where they need to make it simple and easy to use, else no one’s going to use it.

4. Join us and write apps for free! As I traveled from booth to booth, one of the most consistent sentiments from each company, whether it be mobile device makers such as Sprint and Blackberry, cloud operators such as Sun, copier device makers such as Ricoh, or even ‘smart pens’ makers such as Livescribe, was: We have Java APIs now, come write applications for us!. While its clear Apple’s iPhone developer community success has changed the way companies find developers, I couldn’t help but wondering where they think tons of developers are just going to come aboard and write applications for them for free. Some do have solid pricing models for developers getting paid, but for the most part I think they are hoping developers magically materialize, at least on paper, so they can put on the appearance of staying competitive with Apple. I’m sure the next 2 years will be rampant with these stores failing or succeeding. For example, BlackBerry has had public APIs to develop on their mobile for years, and the quality of the software in the community, up until recently, has been awful.

Final Thoughts
If this entry seems critical of JavaOne, it’s only that I worry for the future. Make no mistake, I loved the JavaOne conference. I had a wonderful time, met a lot of really cool people, and expanded my knowledge of a lot of technologies and languages. The community is one of a kind, and everyone here is really top notch. Where else can you have conversations about serialization and cross-site scripting over breakfast? Thanks to everyone I met, the presenters in particular, and I hope to see you all next year!