Category Archives: Sun

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JavaFX code runs at the speed of Java

The Java runtime used by Sun’s JavaFX is mature and well optimized, which means that non-visual code will generally perform well. I’ve just spotted that Josh Marinacci at Sun put up a version of my countprimes test to illustrate this. Here’s the JavaFX version. On my system JavaFX and Silverlight are neck-and-neck for this – sometimes one is faster, sometimes the other. Flash is much slower, and Javascript not in the race.

Next stop: an Alchemy version.

Sun’s JavaFX is launched: another go at applets

Sun has launched JavaFX.

 
Sun’s Eric Klein, VP of Java Marketing, explains JavaFX

What is it? Sun says:

JavaFX is a rich client platform for building cross-device applications and content. Designed to enable easy creation and deployment of rich internet applications (RIAs) with immersive media and content, the JavaFX platform ensures that RIAs look and behave consistently across diverse form factors and devices.

What is it really? A new script language called JavaFX; a compiler that turns JavaFX script into Java bytecode; a runtime that includes new media codecs; converters that turn SVG, PhotoShop or Illustrator graphics into JavaFX format. JavaFX also requires the JRE (Java Runtime Environment). Currently only Windows and Mac OS X are supported; Linux and Solaris support “will be provided in a future release”; mobile is also on the way, promised for Spring 2009.

A variety of video and audio codecs are supported, but unfortunately these vary by platform. For example, WMV plays only on Windows; H.264 runs on Mac but on Windows only “as an update”, whatever that means. However, there is a specific “cross-platform” codec, which is VP6 from On2. Snag: you need On2’s commercial software to convert to the required .FXM format.

What’s good about JavaFX? Sun claims broadest market reach; but this is nonsense – I presume it is counting every device with a smidgen of Java installed. There are some advantages though. JavaFX can run Java code, and there’s plenty of that out there. The Java VM is mature and fast. A neat feature is that you can run JavaFX applications outside the browser by dragging them onto the desktop. Even in the browser, Java FX are not confined to the browser window, but can create graphics that appear anywhere on the screen. Java SE 6 update 10 or higher is required for these features, which depend on an out of process Java applet plugin in this update.

What’s bad about JavaFX? There are several reasons why Sun will find this a hard sell:

  • Large download size. Flash and Silverlight are self-contained browser plug-ins; Silverlight is larger than Flash, but still under 5MB. I’m not sure exactly what size JavaFX is on a machine without Java. I tried visiting javafx.com on a new XP install, and was directed to the main Java download site which recommended a JRE of about 7MB; I suspect it might do further incremental downloads after that, since the full JRE is more like 15MB. Once the JRE is in, you still need to install the JavaFX runtime, though is done automatically and I imagine that in time JavaFX will just be part of the JRE. Right now, the process is less smooth than for Flash or Silverlight.
  • Lack of design tools. Adobe has its fantastic Creative Suite, most of which now seems to target Flash. Microsoft has Expression. Sun is offering converters for Photoshop and Illustrator or SVG. These applications know nothing about JavaFX, and there is no visual editor in NetBeans 6.5.
  • A new language. Although JavaFX script does not look particularly difficult to learn, it is friction for developers wanting to give it a try.
  • Signs of haste. I’m seeing this now. When I saw the JavaFX announcement, I went to the site and successfully installed the runtime and played the introductory video, which itself uses JavaFX. Soon after, presumably as word spread, the launch site became unusable for me. Videos do not play; samples do not download. The spin will be that this shows the high level of interest; but vendors like Sun are meant to understand about scalability.

     
    JavaFX.com showing signs of stress on launch day

  • Late to the party. Adobe is well entrenched with Flash. If Microsoft is late with Silverlight, Sun is very late with JavaFX.
  • Limited features. I’m just back from Adobe MAX, learning about features like Pixel Bender in Flash Player 10, and its new text rendering engine, and new audio API. The JavaFX API looks limited by comparison. There is no 3D support yet.
  • Lack of compelling reasons for adoption. You can run Java code; but then again, Java applets and desktop Java clients have been around for many years. I can see the value in both Flash and Silverlight, but what is the must-have feature of JavaFX?
  • Platform variation. It bothers me that JavaFX supports different codecs on different platforms. What happened to write once – run everywhere?

What else? It’s early days. I’d like to hear from Designers whether JavaFX does what they need. JavaFX will improve, and it does have obvious value for Java developers who want to code rich internet applications. Sun’s commitment to open source may make JavaFX interesting to those who find Flash and Silverlight too tightly locked to single vendors.

Some details above are drawn from the JavaFX FAQ.

Sun’s financial problems – what comes next?

Sun has today published a press release announcing that up to 18% of its global workforce is to be cut and that Rich Green, VP of Software, has resigned.

It has also formed a new business group called Cloud Computing & Developer Platforms, for advancing its cloud services efforts.

Sun is a fascinating company, with serious commitment to open source. It is also the steward of Java, MySQL and OpenOffice.org. Despite the software aspect, selling servers is a core part of its business, and its problems now (in my quick opinion) are a consequence of the economic downturn, a trend towards cheap-and-many in the server market, and a rush towards open source without any clear strategy over how to monetize it. No, I don’t believe turning runtime and application downloads into foistware and adware is the solution.

Somehow, Sun allowed competitors such as IBM and Oracle to benefit from Java without reaping equal rewards itself. It is great at innovating but less good at profiting from its invention. Java applets were the first browser-hosted client applications, but Sun did not see the need for something like JavaFX until Adobe Flash and then Microsoft Silverlight showed how this needed to evolve; now it is probably too late.

Another example is utility computing (one aspect of cloud computing), which Sun pioneered with its Grid initiative; but others such as Amazon are now setting the pace in this area.

What comes next – acquisition, recovery, or continued decline?

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OpenOffice to become adware?

From Jonathan Schwartz’s blog:

An auction’s afoot … to see who we’ll be partnering with us to integrate their businesses and brands into our binary product distribution – the possibilities are limitless: people tend to print those documents, fax them, copy them, project them (and I know this annoys my friends in the free software community, but branding allows us to invest more in OpenOffice.org community and features, from which everyone benefits).

An alarming prospect. But OpenOffice.org is meant to be free and open source. What does Schwartz mean by “our binary distribution”? Note he says OpenOffice.org not Star Office, Sun’s commercial version.

I presume it will be possible for others to step in and offer branding-free distributions of OpenOffice. I’ll go for those, thanks very much.

Contributors to OpenOffice.org put their trust in Sun and even assigned their copyright, supposedly to protect the open source status of the code. If Sun commercialises the free distribution (it can do what it likes with Star Office), that strikes me as stretching the limits of what people understand by free software.

If Sun, by Schwartz’s own admission, is willing to “annoy” its friends in the free software community, OpenOffice.org will lose a lot of momentum – I foresee forks and anger. A good day for Microsoft Office.

Then again, I may have misunderstood. I’m seeking clarification.

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Sun distributing Microsoft toolbar, Google drops Star Office from its Pack

Microsoft has done a deal with Sun where its search toolbar is distributed with the Java runtime. The deal only applies to US Internet Explorer users who download the JRE. Previously Sun distributed the Google toolbar with Java.

Separately, as one or two have noticed, Google is no longer distributing Sun’s Star Office suite with the Google Pack. Cracks appearing in the Sun/Google relationship?

The Star Office aspect is interesting because it may (or may not) be significant for Google’s overall strategy for productivity software.

Google has its own office suite, one that works online. So why promote a competitor? Well, Star Office is a traditional desktop suite that has more features and works offline. It is also one in the eye for Microsoft and might inhibit a few Office 2007 sales. I had wondered whether Google would try some deep integration with Star Office, where you could seamlessly open and save documents to Google storage on the Internet.

Maybe Google has now decided that Star Office muddies its message, which is a pure Internet play for office applications, with offline features coming via Gears. When combined with the speed of Chrome, this has plenty of potential.

Alternatively, Star Office is just being upgraded and will be back soon. Or perhaps Sun and Google fell out over the terms. Now that Google is so dominant in search, users visit Google and get the toolbar anyway; it doesn’t need Sun’s support. All speculation; Google has yet to comment, as far as I know.

Let me add that I hate this method of promoting software, where you download one thing and get another by default. It’s called foistware.

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Sun’s Tim Bray declares end of Enterprise Software

In a dramatic session here at FOWA in London, Sun’s Tim Bray tore up his talk and spoke on life after the economic crash. While giving a near-apocalyptic prediction of tough times ahead, he said that certain technologies will be winners and losers. Winners: open source, agile development, web applications, cloud computing. Losers: enterprise software:

I do not see much future for enterprise software … you are not going to get any purchase orders

On the subject of cloud computing, he added that he is not sure what model is best – hosted applications, virtual servers on demand such as those from Amazon, or what. The main risk, he said, is lock-in.

Ironically his talk is being followed by one from Salesforce.com, where lock-in is real.

Clearly, and as Bray admitted, the ideas he is recommending are the same as what he would recommend anyway. That doesn’t make them wrong, of course. His dose of reality, despite his pessimism, won applause here.

There are a few more snippets from his talk on my twitter feed.

Google, Adobe, Mozilla: Open source war of words is all about owning the platform

The route to dizzying riches in this industry is to own the platform. Look no further than Microsoft, which not only sells the operating system, but also dominates the applications which run on it, from Microsoft Office on the desktop, to server products like Exchange and SQL Server, and network management software like System Center. Anyone can build applications for Windows, and plenty of third-parties have done so successfully using its free SDK (Software Development Kit), but somehow it is Microsoft that profits most.

Microsoft is still doing its thing, but attention is turning to the next generation of Internet-based computing. I touched a nerve when I asked Google’s Dion Almaer about Adobe Flash: it’s not open enough for Google, he told me. I put this to Adobe’s Dave McAllister, director of standards and open source, who assured me that Flash is all-but open, excepting (ahem) the source code to the runtime. Then he surprised me (considering he is an open source guy) by accusing Mozilla of bad faith over Tamarin, the source code to its ActionScript 3 runtime and just-in-time compiler, and remarking that Sun’s efforts to open source Java had mainly helped its competitors. I wrote this up for the Reg.

The problem is that these companies want the best of both worlds: the widespread adoption and community contributions that open source can generate, but the control and profit that comes from owning the platform.

If you can’t own the platform, the next best thing is that nobody owns the platform, which is why IBM worked to hard to get Sun to open source Java, and deliberately muddied the waters by sponsoring the Eclipse tools platform and alternative Java runtimes and GUI libraries.

Why is Google wary of Flash? Simply, because it is risky to build your own application platform on a runtime that belongs to another company. It is not enough for Adobe to say it will never charge for the runtime, any more than it is enough for Microsoft to give away the Windows SDK. Google is watching Adobe, and seeing how it is building online applications like Buzzword which competes with its own Google Docs. Companies with their own platform ambitions (Apple also comes to mind) are more likely to be averse to Flash. Oh, and look who else is building its own alternative to Flash? Yes, Microsoft with Silverlight.

Like Google, Mozilla is trying to build a browser platform that has less need of proprietary plug-ins like Flash. Although I was surprised that Adobe’s McAllister said Mozilla was using its open source contributions in the wrong kind of way, seemingly missing the whole point of open source, I was not surprised to find tensions. I quizzed Mozilla’s John Resig on this exact subject one year ago, when I wrote that Adobe and Mozilla were on course for collision.

As McAllister points out, open source also has risks, particularly the danger of fragmentation and multiple incompatible versions. Maybe Flash is better as closed-source. Still, let’s not pretend it is really all-but open source. The real issue is who owns and controls the platform, and in this case it is definitely Adobe.


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Office 2007 ODF support: my guess is it will be good

More details are emerging about the ODF converter which will be in Office 2007 SP2, set for release next year. Doug Mahugh’s post outlines the architecture and explains how the converter will deal with compatibility issues.

I want to highlight the section that describes how the converter is implemented:

Word, Excel and PowerPoint have a Model-View-Controller design. The in-memory representation of the document, or Model, is designed to facilitate document revision and display functions and includes concepts which are never saved to the file, such as the insertion point and the selection.

The persistence code converts this in-memory representation to and from some sort of the disk file based representation. Office 2007 already had code to support a number of angle-brackety persistence formats including HTML and OOXML. When we built in support for ODF, we added it in that area of our code.

That suggests deep integration, and a converter that has good chances of working smoothly and quickly – unlike the clunky open source translator which Microsoft sponsored, which is based on XSLT.

Users also have the option of Sun’s plug-in, which is based on Open Office code.

It seems that Microsoft is aiming to make Office 2007 a good ODF citizen. Will that impede adoption of Microsoft’s own OOXML format? Well, I guess OOXML will still be the default, and will have the best support for Office-specific features. Another thing to bear in mind is that OOXML was designed with Office specifically in mind. Potentially troublesome creatures like very large Excel spreadsheets may well perform best with OOXML. Another point is that Microsoft’s server products, where they exploit XML documents, are likely to work best with OOXML. In other words, there are likely to be advantages in OOXML within enterprises that use Microsoft’s platform.

Still, strong support for ODF by default in Office will be a significant boost for the OASIS format. Microsoft is protecting its very profitable Office sales against the risk of being dropped for lack of ODF compatibility.

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JavaFX – just for Java guys?

JavaFX is Sun’s answer to Flash and Silverlight, and it’s partially open source under the GPL. I’ve just downloaded the bundle of NetBeans plus JavaFX SDK. JavaFX Script is a new language for creating rich multimedia effects. I’ve also downloaded “Project Nile”, which includes “a set of Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator plug-ins that allow graphics assets to be easily exported to JavaFX applications”. Unlike Microsoft, Sun is choosing to work with the designer’s existing favourite tools rather than trying to wrench them away to a brand new set (Expression).

According to Sun JavaFX is happening quickly: it is promising “Version 1.0 of JavaFX desktop runtime by the fall of 2008”.

The bit that makes me sceptical, aside from the speed of events, is that if I’m reading the following diagram right, users will require both the Java Runtime Environment (could be Java ME) and the JavaFX runtime in order to enjoy the results:

By contrast, Microsoft’s Silverlight does not require the full .NET runtime to be present, making it a much smaller download; and Flash has always been small.

The win for JavaFX is access to all the services of Java:

…JavaFX applications can leverage the power of Java by easily including any Java library within a JavaFX application to add advanced capabilities. This way application developers leverage their investments in Java.

On the other hand, it means a more complex and heavyweight install for users who do not have the right version of Java itself already installed. The Windows JRE is currently around 15MB for the offline version – there’s a 7MB “online” version but my guess is that it downloads more stuff during the install. I suspect that Adobe’s Flash would never have taken off if it had been that large a download.

When I spoke to Sun’s Rich Green earlier this year I recall that he agreed that a small download was important. Maybe I have this wrong, or a smaller runtime is planned for some future date.

It’s interesting that in his official blog post today, Josh Marinacci takes a Java-centric view:

So why am I excited about JavaFX? Because it gives us the freedom to create beautiful and responsive interfaces like never before. This isn’t to say you can’t do it in plain Java. If you’ve been to any of the last 4 JavaOne’s then you’ve seen great interfaces we’ve built. But these demos were a ton of work.

Right; but you could easily build these “beautiful and responsive interfaces” in Flash, both then and now. It’s a question of positioning. Is JavaFX just a new GUI library for Java – which will be welcome, but limited in appeal to the Java crowd? Or a serious alternative to Flash? At the moment, it looks more like the former.

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Schwartz vs Mickos on MySQL and open source

At least, that’s how it looks. I was intrigued when I saw reports raising the possibility of “high-end” features in MySQL being released under a closed-source license – confirmed (as a possibility) in a roundabout way here. I found it odd because Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz had told me of Sun’s intention to open source everything.

So what does Schwartz think of the MySQL idea? Not much, according to his statement in this email interview with Tim O’Reilly:

Marten Mickos (SVP, Database Group at Sun, former CEO, MySQL) made some comments saying he was considering making available certain MySQL add-ons to MySQL Enterprise subscribers only – and as I said on stage, leaders at Sun have the autonomy to do what they think is right to maximize their business value – so long as they remember their responsibility to the corporation and all of its communities (from shareholders to developers). Not just their silo.

I think Marten got some fairly direct and immediate feedback saying the idea was a bad one – and we have no plans whatever of “hiding the ball,” of keeping any technology from the community. Everything Sun delivers will be freely available, via a free and open license (either GPL, LGPL or Mozilla/CDDL), to the community.

Everything.

No exception.

Seems clear enough to me.