A Whole Lot of Open Goin’ On

SAN FRANCISCO—The newly installed CEO of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan Schwartz, and the newly reinstalledhead of Sun Software, Rich Green, took the stage Tuesday morning to officially open the 11th annual JavaOne with plenty for this open source-loving community to dig its teeth into. But on the one topic everyone is salivating for the most, they offered just a whiff of a bounty yet to come.

Schwartz and Green didn’t bother to evade the big question on everyone’s mind—will Sun ever open source Java?—but fell slightly short of making a definitive announcement: “It’s not a question of whether [Sun will open source Java],” said Green, “but a question of how.” Green and Schwartz emphasized the difficult issue of a forking effect that could easily result from a fully open sourced Java platform—an issue that Sun has cited for its Java balk for two years, ever since open source luminaries and IBM executive Rod Smith began to lobby Sun publicly to concede Java to open source. “Compatibility will remain the priority and then we can provide [Java] to all,” said Green. To back up the point, Green invited a representative from each company that was involved in the Java EE 5 working group on stage, who then joined in a prearranged bit, revealing a banner that read: “Compatibility Matters.”

Green appealed to the audience to join the JCP in the hopes that a larger base of community involvement would help Sun get more quickly to a point of resolving the fears of breaking compatibility. In a press conference after the general session, Schwartz rejected the implication that open sourcing Java would detract from the company’s financial disposition, saying that open source provides fewer barriers to creating revenue. “Don’t mistake free software for lower revenue. Free software is pro market and pro opportunity,” said Schwartz.

While attendees will have to wait some time for open source Java, executives proudly touted an array of other projects that have been parceled out to open source.

  • Sun Java Studio Creator
  • Sun Java Message System (JMS)
  • Web Services Interoperability (nee Project Tango)
  • The BPEL Engine
  • The Java System Portal Server

While Schwartz confirmed Sun’s commitment to the open source community during Tuesday’s keynote, he also threw the mobile development community into the mix, inviting Motorola CEO (and former Sun President) Ed Zander to the stage. Zander in turn confirmed Motorola’s commitment to the Java/Linux axis. “The Internet is going mobile,” Zander said, “…and I can’t think of a better [service delivery platform] than Java.”

Everything about Java EE 5 reduces complexity for the developer, helping Java get closer to the promise of appealing to a broader group of developers and further away from the age-old conundrum that Java is too complicated for developers who aren’t interested—or don’t have time for—underlying architectural concerns.

Schwartz cited Motorola’s projected 200 million phones shipped this year—outselling PC sales—as supporting evidence that the future of computing belongs to mobile. With the release of new standards like JSR 209 alleviating some of the problems in coding for multiple devices, mobile carriers are announcing toolkits that promise to bring Java mobile developers closer than ever to Java’s holy grail of “write once, run anywhere.” To that end, Zander requested that Schwartz help make sure Java “stays unified for mobile.” The comment echoed concerns that open sourcing Java will result in forking and breaking compatibility.

Java EE 5 Breakdown
Sun’s primary accomplishment for this JavaOne is clearly the completion of the Java EE 5 specification, an SDK for which is available now for download. Though the “news” is hardly unexpected—the JSRs and features targeted for inclusion in the 5.0 enterprise specification have been known for months—the collection of technologies that are delivered with this version are invaluable, albeit by almost any standard, quite overdue. Key among these:

  • Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) 3.0 —”The biggest area of change in Java EE,” said Jeff Jackson, Senior Vice President of Java EE Platforms and Developer Products in a press conference last week. It simplifies all bean types, supports plain old Java objects (POJOs), offers better defaults, and dependency injection a la Spring, which eliminates the need for JNDI.
  • Annotations—Annotations, which can be used in EJBs and Web services, eliminates the need to rely on deployment descriptors or JavaDoc and allows you to map Java classes to databases.
  • JavaServer Faces (JSFs) —JSF enables you to easily create user interfaces for Web-based applications, with prepackaged components for developers to call. There are more than 200 JSF components available today from 20 vendors, many including AJAX support.
  • A new Java Persistence API—This persistence interface for mapping Java objects to relational databases draws from Hibernate, TopLink, and Java Data Objects (JDO) technology—camps that once were at odds about which was the best Java persistence solution. Developers can also use the persistence API to make POJOs persistent—and eliminates the need to use the very complicated CMP (container-managed persistence) bean from version 2.0.
  • JAX-WS 2.0—With JAX-WS 2.0, Java will use annotations to declare Web services endpoints, significantly reducing the amount of code needed to call a Web service.
  • JAXB 2.0—This standard lets you bind Java classes directly to XML Schema, and, as demonstrated in the technical session Tuesday, what took 308 lines in JAXB 1.0 takes only 62 lines of code in 2.0.
  • Application packaging—With Java EE 5, you don’t need to declare a classpath with manifest headers to deploy your application. You can put a .war file inside of an .ear and distribute it.

The common ground? Everything about Java EE 5 reduces complexity for the developer, helping Java get closer to the promise of appealing to a broader group of developers and further away from the age-old conundrum that Java is too complicated for developers who aren’t interested—or don’t have time for—underlying architectural concerns.

A demo showed how using annotations significantly reduces the amount of code necessary for a J2EE 1.4 “Hello World” Web service. Sun Distinguished Engineer Bill Shannon pointed out that while Web services in Java EE 5 are based on JAX-WS and JAXB 2.0, the developer wouldn’t need to know anything about either standard to build the Web service with annotations.

All together the release makes application packaging simpler, to the tune of 36 percent fewer classes and more than 500 fewer lines of code to build the sample Adventure Builder application in Java EE 5 versus J2EE 1.4, according to Shannon.

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.

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