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JavaOne 2004: Robust Java Economy Calls for Developer Entrepreneurship

As the message of Java's robust health permeated the 2004 JavaOne Developer conference, an underlying message became clear: The opportunities for Java developer entrepreneurship are also alive and well.


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ava is everywhere. So declared Sun Microsystems and many other industry heavyweights at this week's JavaOne Developer Conference. From mobile devices, to dashboard computers in cars, and even to interplanetary exploration devices (NASA's Mars Rover), virtually every computing platform uses Java in one form or another. While you would expect vendors that have a stake in the proliferation of Java to be optimistic about the growth of the Java economy, it's hard to maintain a journalist's cynicism when presented with the numbers:
  • Sun estimates the Java economy to be a $100 billion market annually, according to President and COO Jonathan Schwartz.
  • During the Nokia keynote on Wednesday morning, CTO Pertti Korhonen claimed about 250 million Java-enabled handsets are in use worldwide and the number is growing by 50 percent each year.
  • Sun counts 4 million among the Java developer ranks.

As this message of Java's robust health permeated the conference, an underlying message was that the opportunities for developer entrepreneurship are also alive and well—particularly in the mobile computing space. The pitch is pretty simple: millions of Java clients, all running on a single platform, equals a huge installed base for innovative Java applications. The users of these devices will pay for cool applications to run in their handsets, homes, and even cars, as evidenced by the online sales of mobile-device games and cell phone ring tones, which Schwartz places in the billions of dollars. In other words: find your niche, innovate, and make money.

Find your niche, innovate, and make money.
To drive this point home, Schwartz shared an anecdote about a game developer who recouped the investment he'd made to build a popular game within days of making it available for download. From that point on, the fees users paid to get their hands on his game went straight to earnings. Someone will write the next popular user application, why not you?



This call to entrepreneurship coincidentally comes on the heels of a Meta Group survey that found morale among IT workers at an all-time low. For developers whose job satisfaction has suffered from burnout or outsourcing worries recently, the idea of striking out on your own may be a very welcome suggestion. I'm certainly not suggesting you quit your day job on a get-rich-quick whim, but ingenuity and dedication can yield returns.

You don't need to look any further than Project Looking Glass Creator, Hideya Kawahara for inspiration. As part of Sun's announcement that it was releasing Project Looking Glass to the open source community, Kawahara twice was called on stage during Sun's general sessions, once by Schwartz for a demo and the following morning by CEO Scott McNealy. The self-proclaimed "geek" says he devoted his nights and weekends to developing this 3D desktop interface project for over a year, spurred on by nothing more than the belief that "3D would be the next user interface." The fruit of his labor is software that enables Java developers to create GUIs in which users can manipulate application windows in a three-dimensional space. Granted, Kawahara can't truly be considered an entrepreneur since he developed his project as a Sun employee, but he did it with no initial investment from Sun using freely available Linux and Java software.

Vendors can provide the tools, but developers must provide the innovation.
In fact, a contest announced at the show could turn your programming creativity into money much sooner. The JavaOne OCAP Developers Contest, sponsored by Sun and TV and cable industry vendors such as Comcast, Time Warner/Cable, and Cablevision, challenges the Java community to develop innovative applications for the interactive television (iTV) market using OCAP (OpenCable Applications Platform). OCAP is a Java-based software platform for digital television based on the worldwide Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) standard. The contest will consist of four categories: stand-alone (virtual channel); advertising; live events (sporting events, award shows, game shows); and innovation (for standard programming). The winners of each category are awarded $1,000, and the overall winner also obtains a DLP HDTV. It's safe to say that the award money would be a drop in the bucket compared with what a killer app in this new market would earn its creator.

Of course, the push toward visual application development tools that allow entry-level Java developers to build simple applications with a layer of abstraction from the more complex enterprise Java plumbing continued: Sun announced the availability of Java Studio Creator (formerly Project Rave). And the Java rock stars were treated to the Beta 2 release of the Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) 5.0 JDK (or Project Tiger), along with previews of the new features and changes in the upcoming release. But the true message seemed to be that vendors can provide the tools, but developers must provide the innovation—for their own financial benefit as much as for the vendors.



   
Glen Kunene is the Managing Editor for DevX.
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