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A Whole Lot of Open Goin' On : Page 2

Sun came a lot closer to a promise of open sourcing Java on the first day of JavaOne this year, but meanwhile plenty else is finding its way to the community. Find out about where Java is going in Mustang and Dolphin, what was hot at NetBeans Day, what you can get today in the Java EE 5 edition, and why Borland, among many others, is talking a lot about supporting the heterogeneous open source stack.


A Technical Roadmap and Look-ahead to Mustang and Dolphin
Looking ahead, as Sun formulates the proper balance between free and open Java access and compatibility and brand integrity, the Java EE and Java SE teams continue to push the platform forward with new features.

Development of the latest EE and SE releases has been more open and collaborative than that of previous JDKs, with individual participation encouraged through Project GlassFish and java.net, respectively. Graham Hamilton, Sun vice president and fellow, credited the open development—making weekly builds of Java SE 5 (codename: Mustang, slated for an October release date) available for download and then collecting and implementing the reported bugfixes—with enabling Sun to make changes quickly during development. Hamilton called the new process an improvement over the old method of waiting until a formal beta release before getting feedback.

Among the feature areas that Hamilton highlighted in the upcoming Mustang release was a framework for scripting engines (JSR-223) that developers can use either to build hybrid applications that use both Java and a scripting language together, or to enable customers to extend Java applications with the scripting language of their choice.

Hamilton also stressed the desktop focus in Mustang, which will include core support for Windows Vista, a key target platform that the Mustang team is tracking closely. The audience saw a preview of this support in a demo that featured a desktop calendar application that presented a native Windows look and feel. The presenter dynamically updated the UI to a Vista theme by simply selecting it from a drop-down menu. Mustang will also include Web services support thorough the JAX-WS standard, which developers can also leverage to enable mapping between Java and .NET applications.

Hamilton also used his stage time to tease some of the goodies in the works for the Java SE 7 (codename: Dolphin) release. Developers can look forward to a Java Module System for better packaging, desktop improvements in Java2D graphics and Swing capabilities, Web-tier features that incorporate JavaScript and more AJAX, and even a Visual Basic for Java function that compiles VB source code into Java class files.

Standing Room Only at NetBeans Day Monday
On the eve of the JavaOne 2006 Conference, Sun's third annual NetBeans Software Day drew standing-room-only attendance in a roughly 800-person capacity ballroom on Monday. An informal show-of-hands poll by Engineering Director for NetBeans and event moderator Tim Cramer revealed that nearly all the attendees were current NetBeans users. The IDE's popularity also was reflected in the addition this year of two separate technical session tracks: Developing Applications for the Enterprise and Developing Client Applications.

Developers can look forward to a Java Module System for better packaging, desktop improvements in Java2D graphics and Swing capabilities, Web-tier features that incorporate JavaScript and more AJAX, and even a Visual Basic for Java function that compiles VB source code into Java class files.

Not only has the user base apparently grown, but the list of companies and technology projects who've partnered with NetBeans has also, according to Cramer. He claimed that more than 100 partners are now onboard, including vendors such Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, and AMD, open source projects such as Apache Subversion and Maven, and recently JBoss, which drew applause from the audience.

Three partners, Subversion, Sprint, and Maven, were on hand to conduct demos of their NetBeans plug-ins. The Subversion plug-in, an alternative to CVS, offers version control for NetBeans. The Sprint Wireless Toolkit is a set of APIs that include the Sprint Mobility IDE, a customized version of the NetBeans Mobility Pack. The demo walked through the creation of a media player application for a mobile phone, a process that took only about 10 minutes to complete with the IDE's visual drag-and-drop functionality for MIDlet creation and its preloaded forms. The Maven demo illustrated the ease of using Maven as the build tool in NetBeans—once the presenter replaced the default Ant component with Maven.

Schwartz went to the Sun slogan archives and retrieved "innovation happens elsewhere," a mantra heard frequently at the 2003 JavaOne show. He said that after a period during which Sun had been too inward-focused, the company has been rebuilding the community around itself for the past few years, providing the tools and resources Sun believes will enable them to innovate with Java and grow the market in a way they could not on their own.

The key to this innovation, according to Schwartz, is improving developer tools to increase productivity. He recounted how, earlier in his career, he'd seen first-hand how a development team's morale, speed, and code quality increased as their tools improved. "Developer productivity is at the heart of everything we're doing," said Schwartz.

Green, whom Schwartz lured back to Sun to run the software group after two years at startup Cassatt, joined Schwartz on stage for a mock Q&A in which Schwartz assumed the voice of the developer community. Green had barely finished introducing himself before Schwartz fired off his first question: "Are you going to open-source Java?"

Green had to let the audience's laughter and applause subside before answering, a pat response that indicated Sun wasn't changing its commitment to its TCK (Technology Compatibility Kit): "We need to keep Java whole and compatible to protect the investments you've made." Obviously, Green was holding back his more hopeful "not whether but how" news for Tuesday's keynote.

However, according to Sun Chief Architect Bob Brewin, developers can expect Sun to contribute more and more of its tools portfolio to open source use with NetBeans, which Sun plans to evolve into the common foundation of its entire developer tools stack. The goal, explained Brewin, is a single tightly integrated, rigorously tested tool—"the goal is NetBeans."

Sun also intends the IDE to accommodate developers of all skill levels, according to James Gosling, the noted Java luminary who headlined the closing keynote of the event. After touting the BlueJ IDE—a NetBeans plug-in tool designed to teach people who have never programmed before how to code—he explained that Sun wants NetBeans to progress with users as their skill levels increase, from the BlueJ newbie to the Java EE rock star who can handle the capabilities of the NetBeans Enterprise Pack.

Supporting a Blended Stack
In a meeting with DevX, Borland executives Rob Cheng, director of marketing for developer solutions, and Joe McGlynn, R&D manager for JBuilder, talked excitedly about their three-year roadmap for JBuilder, a product that they want people to know isn't dead—not even close. Borland saw the writing on the wall more than a year ago, as developers shifted rapidly to open source IDEs and effectively disintegrated the market for commercial alternatives, by retooling its JBuilder product to work as an add-in to Eclipse. More importantly, Borland announced several months ago that it would spin off its developer division, including JBuilder, Delphi, and C++ Builder to a yet-to-be-named third party that they say is willing to invest itself fully in the future of the products.

While the news about who will ultimately inherit Borland's IDEs won't be known until the third quarter of 2006, Cheng and McGlynn say that a new custodian who can more readily devote resources to the continuance of the product line, has invigorated the community of longtime JBuilder customers. JBuilder 2007 (a.k.a. "Peloton"), which will be released in the fourth quarter, will be the first version of JBuilder to run on top of Eclipse and will also support the new features of the Java EE 5 version, including EJB 3 and Web services support. Additionally JBuilder 2007 will have an "intent-based user interface" that effectively guides the developer toward critical tasks and cuts back on menu clutter by "putting features you don't need away," according to McGlynn.

Cheng and McGlynn say that Borland—and its potential future partners—believe that the future for JBuilder must include in the ability to support today's heterogeneous application stack, which is quickly becoming the de facto architecture of today's enterprise. Open source frameworks such as Apache Shale, Spring, and Hibernate have garnered such a strong following that tools must adapt to support a "blended" architecture. For JBuilder 2008, which is planned for the fourth quarter of 2007, Borland's successor is committed to providing flexible support for open source tooling and management and an "SOA cockpit" that will give developers an integrated way of building applications that conform to SOA architecture.

This kind of blended stack support is readily seen throughout the show floor at JavaOne this year. Whether or not developers ever see open source Java, it's clear that tools vendors are adapting as quickly as possible to a Java ecosystem that takes a little bit from everywhere—so long as its free, flexible, and leverages the many innovations that vaulted open source into the forefront of development in the first place.

Glen Kunene is the Managing Editor for DevX.
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