It seems to be the month for celebrations. Not only is it the fifth JavaOne, but it's also the second anniversary of this column. Both are still going strong, so hurrah! on both accounts. Long may it continue!
JavaOne is the Java event of the year. Period. It's our Oscars....our Olympics....our show. One of the few shows where the ratio of geeks per head is still encouragingly high. For those of you that haven't yet been to one, you're missing out on one great party. Now when I say party, I don't necessarily mean loud music and huge quantities of alcohol, but I mean party in the getting-to-know-everyone sense. I would of course be lying if I said that alcohol or music wasn't part of the equation!
We're currently preparing ourselves for the annual pilgrimage over the Atlantic to attend. Murray, The Riddler (Darren), Ceri and I will all be in attendance, hovering around the JDJ booth, conducting a demanding schedule of radio interviews. You'll recognize us fairly easily we'll be the ones decked out in full Scottish kilts, with a microphone taped to our mouths. The JDJ staff and I are preparing the radio interview schedule, and let me tell you, we have some really cool interviews lined up, so be sure to stop by the booth and check us out. Sadly, my regular radio cohost won't be joining me this year; Keith has other duties to perform elsewhere.
Most of the JDJ editors will be there, so come and introduce yourself to us and tell us what you really think of our columns. But be warned: don't be too harsh seeing grown men cry can sometimes be a hard thing to deal with. I'd especially like to extend an invitation to all those on the Straight Talking mailing list: I want to see faces. We're attempting to arrange a bit of a get-together, so be sure to stop by the JDJ booth and Web site for venue details.
In the midst of all this excitement leading up to JavaOne, let me get on with business and move forward with this column. I have a number of things I want to bounce off you this month.
Keith has just returned from a fact-finding mission to Silicon Valley. He went with a group of other Scottish companies for a structured learning experience that was prepared by the Scottish Enterprise Board. Keith met with many representatives from all walks of the computing life, from venture capitalists right up to U.S. Customs officials regarding visas. He came back with many facts, some surprising, some not. Let me share some of them with you.
Funding....I'm not going to lie to you....it doesn't look good. It seems to be a very nepotistic world, and unless you know someone that can get your foot in the door, getting these people to even answer your calls is a major project in itself. If you do manage to get a contact, be sure to have your "exit strategy" figured out and ready to implement within at least two years. So anyone wishing to build a large empire can forget about it!
Assuming you've got some money sorted out, they'll want to put at least one person on the board and want you to have your offices no more than 30 minutes away from their offices. Hazarding a rough stab in the dark here, I'm thinking Scotland may just fall out with that particular criterion.
That said, there seem to be some shortcuts that can be employed successfully. If you're young enough that university is still in the cards, may I suggest you go to Stanford at Palo Alto? Since this has been the breeding ground for many of the large players in our industry, venture capitalists are sniffing around this place like flies around dung. In one reported case a VC apparently snuck into a class that taught how to put successful business plans together. Upon class completion she canvassed some of the students for their business plans. Clever, clever.
Let's assume you've got your money, you've got your "exit strategy," and all you need to do now is to implement the idea. Oh boy, this is where the fun really begins. Keith spoke to many people on this front, including a number of companies looking to recruit and a number that offered recruitment management.
As regular readers know, this column isn't a great fan of the large salaries this industry is offering. The bubble on this particular minefield is going to burst and there's going to be such fallout from this over exaggerated worth. Keith was told one particular story of a 19-year-old who wanted well in excess of $100K plus all benefits, stock options and so forth and was then promptly shown the door. Now I'm sure some company will pay this foolish salary, but what are they really buying? Who knows? But one thing's for sure: there's a real skills shortage in the Valley at the moment, and with salaries rocketing forever upward, there seems to be no immediate end in sight.
Every cloud has a silver lining....even this recruitment one. Many companies are now looking outside the Valley for their development team. Many of the large start-ups have development departments dotted all over the globe: Norway, Scotland, India, Ukraine to name but a few of the ones I know of personally. A budget of $100K will buy you a team of world-class developers in any one of these countries, so why buy into the game of having to pay a single "boy" $100K just because he's in the same location that you're in? It's madness.
It's this very madness that has led to the boom in the software industry in India. I recently read an article on this topic that presented a well-balanced argument in favor of using such offshore development teams. Many are reluctant to entrust their ideas to teams that are so remote. That I can understand. But I'd strongly recommend that you look into some of these companies before you decide one way or the other.
Of course, I'm a big believer in offshore development; that's one of the services we provide here at n-ary. We've built the technology behind a number of the dot-com sites, all while being in the middle of the lowlands of Scotland and at a fraction of the cost that would have been incurred if bought locally. Testimonials from many happy customers state that by letting us handle the core technology, they can get on with making their business a success. Keith picked up many hot leads for us and we're evaluating them to decide which ones to explore further. That was another thing Keith noticed: the sheer volume of individuals with the latest winner. He has never seen so much hope in one place before.
For all those sitting with what you believe is a killer idea, best of luck to you. It appears to be a well-trodden path, with many others either in front of or just behind you. Much advice and at times conflicting advice is at hand. Keep cool and remain focused. It'll be worth it.
This column is written for your pleasure, and I welcome all suggestions and comments to keep it fresh and entertaining. With that in mind, a number of months ago I solicited the Straight Talking mailing list
http://listserv.n-ary.com/mailman/listinfo/straight_talking) for suggestions on what they'd like to see me addressing on a monthly basis. One suggestion that came back was to have a quick look at the official Java Bug Parade at the Developer Connection
http://developer.java.sun.com). I've been mulling over this idea and now, after polling a number of others, I hereby officially announce the inclusion of a new section, aptly titled "Bug Report." (Up all night agonizing over that title!)
I've spent quite a bit of time going through many of the bugs/RFEs (Request for Enhancements) that appear in the top 25 lists. Some interesting information for you: of the top 25 bugs, 20 of them are related to GUI APIs. I found this very surprising. Looking through the bugs didn't provide me with much entertainment, but flip over to the RFE and you find some really heated discussions.
At the top of the list, as expected, is the old JDK-on-UNIX chestnut. With over 2,900 votes, there is a call for an official port of the JDK for a FreeBSD platform. Apparently there's a workaround to allow the JDK to run on a BSD platform, but this hasn't appeased the masses. Considering the request was posted only in November, the response has been fairly quick to amass this amount of feedback. Conversely, a quick surf over to the recently closed bugs will reveal the closing of the "Support JDK on Linux," which secured over 4,500 votes to make it happen. Granted, this post has been open since December 1997 and was only closed in December '99, two years later. So all those on the BSD list....hang in there, it could be a long wait.
Moving on to an RFE that we here at n-ary would dearly love to see: the ability for Java to support the ICMP protocol. If you look at BugID#4093850, it contains many good discussions regarding why it should be included in the core JDK. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the ICMP protocol, it is the protocol that the likes of ping and traceroute use. It's part of the IP protocol and technically there's no reason why it shouldn't be supported. The good news on this front is that the necessary APIs that will allow access to this lower-level information could be provided in the next release of Java, code-named Merlin.
After reading the details on what could be included in Merlin,
http://java.sun.com/aboutJava/communityprocess/jsr/jsr_059_j2se.html), it would appear that another highly voted for bug could be knocked on the head. BugID#4075058, "Adding Support for Non-Blocking I/O," has gotten over 400 votes and has been on the list since August 1998. One major problem with handling client connections in Java is the requirement to have one thread per client connection to effectively handle communications. There are a number of workarounds, but none of them provide the required level of control. To this end, building applications that need to handle large volumes of clients for example, Web servers is limited to around 2,000 concurrent clients. This would appear to be the maximum number of sockets that Java can handle sitting in a read() blocking call with the bug report sighting a piece of sample code to prove this figure. What I found particularly amusing about this mail was just how passionate some of the comments at the bottom appeared. If you're bored one day, I'd recommend you read them might prove interesting.
If you spend any length of time on this part of the Internet, it would be easy to become very cynical about the whole Java revolution. Reading through all these bug reports it's a wonder any of it is working. Java is now evolving into a large beast, and with this a number of wee idiosyncrasies are to be expected. So don't panic just yet.
Support Hall of Shame
Here's an update on the Dell ASP fiasco I reported a couple of months back. You're going to love this, and although I have been sworn to secrecy concerning the originator of the post, it doesn't detract any from the story. You may recall my writing about how awful Dell's Web site was, that it resulted in our order being doubled and that it was due to their Web site crashing at the wrong time, thanks to the wonders of Microsoft's ASP. Well, this story far outranks my tale, and I implore you to be more creative in your custom choices when choosing your next system. Let me explain.
Reader-J (what we'll call him) wished to buy a multiple processor system with the Windows 2000 operating system (now do you see why I'm withholding his name?). He selected a 733MHz as his first processor, and his choice for the second processor was quite cool. In the drop-down he was able to select a second 733MHz at a reduction of $349. Yup, a reduction. Cool, eh? The reason is that Windows 2000 apparently doesn't support multiple processors and the business logic at Dell couldn't cope with this and therefore offered a reduction. Reader-J had to haggle with the Dell salesperson before they'd honor the sale, but honor it they did.
We can't put this down to ASP, of course; it could just as well have happened with any other solution. It was the business logic that was screwed up, not the technology. As the complexity of configurations increases, so does the number of potential bugs. From a consumer's point of view, I'd recommend that you play around with some of these vendor Web sites. Who knows? You may end up with a configuration where they owe you money! Stranger things have happened.
Keep Those Stories Coming
On that note I'll bid you farewell for another month, and I'll look forward to meeting some of you at JavaOne.Five, so be sure to stop by the JDJ Sys-Con Radio booth.
Alan Williamson is CEO of n-ary (consulting) Ltd, the first pure Java company in the United Kingdom. The firm, which specializes solely in Java at the server side, has offices in Scotland, England and Australia. Alan is the author of two Java servlet books, and contributed to the Servlet API. He has a Web site at