SUN MICROSYSTEMS came to New York City the second week of December to host the Java Business Conference at the Javits Center. The conference was an multiple opportunity for Sun: to announce the release of major pieces of its Java development software, to run a two-day Java University, and to host three days of conference sessions to present their buzzword-compliant vision of a portable, cross-platform, "Write Once, Run Anywhere"(tm) future of the World Wide Web, and the way the businesses will use it to make money. Oh, yeah. And to party.
On the surface, there were plenty of reasons to party. The value of Sun's stock had quadrupled over the past twelve months and split two-for-one Tuesday night. Sun was obviously pleased with the way the government's antitrust action against Microsoft was going. It had used the occasion of the Business Conference to release the latest version of Java2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), and had just released the piece of the Java puzzle most sought after by Web developers-the Java Development Kit for the Linux operating system. Further, Java on the Web had matured past those annoying scrolling banners and had become the basis for sites such as Lands' End, Eddie Bauer, ESPN Courtside Live, and Range Rover. Finally, Sun was surrounded by its partners, suppliers, and a couple hundred Java True Believers in the holiday season in NYC.
Lurking just below the surface, there were a few downers to temper the partying. Sun hadn't been able (in time for the release of J2EE, anyway) to get its partners (IBM, HP, Oracle, etc.) to sign onto the latest conditions for the branding of the Java platform, and Sun had just pulled out of its most recent efforts to get an international body to declare Java a standard. If the financial analysts at the press conferences at Java Expo were fretting about it, the markets were not. Sun's share price went up about six points that day.
For reasons known only to the marketing people who dream these things up, Java2 is the name of the third major release of the Java platform, and between the second and third release it tripled in size. In private discussions with Sun people at the Javits kiosks, if you use words like "bloat" or "bog-slow," they get defensive. I think that they regard this as a temporary problem to be solved by faster processors, cheaper memory, faster network communications, and advances in Java technology-a predictable attitude for visionaries.
So the J2EE rollout was supposed to be such a big deal? How come? First, I have to talk about the current Java Platform and how it forms the foundation for Sun to realize its vision. For most of its life, Sun has recognized that "The Network Is The Computer(tm)" (remember that?), and it now sees the rest of the world catching up-just that "The Network" is now called "the Internet." To (maybe) you and me, the Internet is HTML pages delivered to our desktop computers through dialup phone lines. According to Sun's visionaries, this model will be antique in a very short time. To those visionaries, the Web will soon be extended both up and down to include the Enterprise (buzzword for "business") and Consumer Spaces (buzzword for mobile phones, palm computing devices, TV set-top boxes, game consoles, etc.) by people trying to get us to spend money on stuff.
The structure of the Java Platform reflects this model of the future Web. Java2 Micro Edition supports development of software for the "Consumer Space,"-software that has limited functionality for small or nonexistent screens and tiny virtual machines to run the programs. In the middle is the Java2 Standard Edition, which supports development of the types of programs that will run on our desktops (buzzword = "client"). J2EE completes the triad, intended to build the programs that run on corporate servers and run on or communicate with corporate mainframes.
How to Make Money Giving Away Software.
We've heard that "business-to-business" Web growth is one of the next big things. Sun hopes that it'll sell a lot of its hardware to corporations, and to do this they have to have the software to run on it. So they give Java away free. Contrasting this business model with that of Microsoft, selling expensive software and giving away hardware (well, at least giving away $400 hardware rebates to hook up to Microsoft Network), gives some clue as to why Bill doesn't get along with Scott.
Every attendee received a free CD copy of StarOffice 5.1, an office suite that purports to perform the same functions as and be interoperable with Microsoft Office. It's functional enough to compose this report, though I have had to Ctrl-Alt-Del quite a few times lately. It's free. The end of programming (As we know it)
I carefully scanned the glossy press releases, and I couldn't find the word "programming" anywhere except a single occurrence immediately following the words "without complex." In the standard Vision, development of Web behavior in the future will require no programming as we know it. Developers will just use a visual development tool to assemble commercially available components, written by specialists and called JavaBeans.
JavaBeans The unfortunate (but apparently obligatory) coffee pun obfuscates the fact that Beans serve the same function in the Java world as Visual Basic components do in the Windows world (a notion not even whispered during the three days of the conference). Components, or Beans, are objects that encapsulate data and behavior and may supply translation services among the players on the Web. Beans, like VB components, are built to lead at least two separate lives. The first life is called "design time," during which the developer assembles and links together the parts of his application using a visual development tool such as Visual Basic or Symantec Cafe. The second life is called "run-time," during which the application performs its intended function of translating databases, receiving user clicks, or is otherwise trying to get you to spend money. Sun thinks that JavaBeans are cooler than VB components because they run on operating systems other than Windows.
Did I say party?
Judging from the laughter meter
at (Sun Chairman and CEO) Scott McNealy's keynote, everyone hates
Gates. McNealy's Top Ten theme was Broadway shows he saw during
the NYC Java Expo, which included "Little Shop of Horrors"
Microsofts e-commerce offerings, Les Misérables
Microsofts legal team, Nutcracker
with a special guest appearance by Janet Reno.
XML is big news
Judging from the attendance at conference
sessions and the frenzy for T-shirts (with cool yin/yang graphics
on the back Java: Portable behavior / XML: Portable data,)
the big next-big-thing news was XML. XML (Extensible Markup Language)
is an emerging Web standard that permits transmission of data
along with its context in a platform-independent way. (Sorry.
I just cant write about this stuff without using buzzwords.)
One of the reasons for the rapid advance of the standard
What is XML?
So what is XML exactly? Well, its
a markup language (like HTML) that isnt much like HTML
at all. First, your average browser wont render it without
a LOT of help, and second, the user can define her own tags (eXtend
the language. Get it?) Its all in human-readable text,
So whats it good for? Well, because the user can extend
it, it can represent data fragments without losing their context.
Youve wrestled with tab- or comma-delimited files? Seen
whizzing by, 3.14159, 2.7183 doesnt
Youve never heard of DTD (Document Type Definition)? Youve never heard of something that brings up a half a million hits on AltaVista? Well, never mind, its obsolete. Maybe theyll talk about XML schemas next year, and Ill write it up. Geeky?
Considering that the target of the conference was The Enterprise, the Java Business Conference wasnt noticeably geeky, and it didnt have that desperate feel, or the children in polyester suits you see at the PC or the Web Expos. It was kind of subdued with one or two wool suits and two or four wingtips. If the geeks and slash-dotters were there, they wore their denim shirt company uniforms, but they could be spotted because their bosses didnt make them take out whatever those things are sticking through holes in their skin.
As intrepid but mild-mannered correspondent
for dacs.doc, I was treated like royalty by the organizers, fed
hot buffet lunches, escorted to a front row seat for the keynote
(I got to sit this far from Scott McNealy before he gave his
talk), got to attend all of the conference sessions, and
|Fred Klingener is president of Brock Engineering in Roxbury. He's interested in using Java for technical applications. He can be reached at klingener@BrockEng.com.|