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Where were you in mid-June 1999, between the 15th and the 18th? I know where at least 20,000 of you were: Moscone Center, San Francisco.

San Francisco was host to this year's JavaOne conference - the ultimate show for anyone involved in the Java universe. If you didn't manage to make it out to the West Coast, lend me your eyes for a wee while and I'll take you through some of the things you missed. If you did manage to go, let me hopefully jog some happy memories as I take you behind the scenes.

Most people's JavaOne experience begins with the queue for their regulation JavaOne backpack - which this year was a much more functional beast than the black bag we got last year. So, with our newfound friend for the week strapped securely to our shoulder, we descended into the belly of the Moscone Center.

Last year, the hall to the left of the escalators was the main exhibitor hall, which shared its real estate with the cafe. This year the hall was allocated entirely to cafe space, which gave a hint that this year's JavaOne was going to eclipse the previous one.

As I wandered about the empty halls of Moscone, I was thinking about how, in a matter of a couple of hours, these halls would be filled with thousands of people involved with Java at all levels.

Some of the Highlights
Historically, there are only two real keynotes you simply have to attend: the opening keynote and the one Scott McNealy delivers. This isn't to say that the rest of them are boring or uninteresting, just optional.

John Gage opened the first keynote with an array of rather impressive statistics. For example, this year's JavaOne played host to over 800 speakers to inform and entertain what was expected to be over 20,000 people. This attendance figure was indeed reached. When you compare this to the first-ever JavaOne of just a few years ago, when there were just 6,000 attendees, the growth rate is astonishing.

John Gage did his usual show introduction and let us in on some of the exciting things that would be coming our way over the week. Last year, the whole conference went fractal mad, as we all clambered to get our Java ring into the picture. This year we had a new toy: the PalmPilot V, one of the first handheld devices to carry the Java Virtual Machine. It allowed us to beam class files to one another, which made for a rather interesting game that John Gage set up to ensure that everyone at the conference interacted with everyone else.

Sun wasn't as generous as they had been with the Java rings, however: we had to actually buy the PalmPilot as it wasn't part of our wonderful backpack. That said, 3Com sold them at a highly reduced price, which made it extremely cost effective. I didn't succumb to this opportunity as my view of these devices is that they're purely a novelty. One wonders how many of them will still be in use after a month. Maybe I'm cynical, but hey, that's what I'm here for.

One of the other handhelds shown at JavaOne was the Motorola pager, which also housed the JVM. It was said that the pager was also considered to be the gimmick of the show, but the FCC wasn't happy to have 20,000 radio beacons in one very concentrated area. Either way, the ability to beam Java classes - for example, a game - between these differing platforms served only to reinforce the cross-platform features of Java. It was indeed a wonderful demonstration. It's one thing to have the same class run in both an Apple environment and a Windows environment, but to see it work with devices that are so different, such as the PalmPilot and a pager, is indeed a sight to behold.

Alan Baratz was up next, and after we were introduced to his daughter in a Linux-Java jive, he went on to announce a number of new developments that will affect us all.

As we know, Java is growing at a tremendous pace. The speed at which APIs are being added makes even the most competent of Java developers worry about being left behind. But fear not. This explosion of class files has now been given a structure, and it was this new grouping that Alan Baratz introduced us to.

Java is now grouped into three editions: Enterprise, Standard and Micro. This is how Java 2.0 will now be referred to. You can learn more about the new editions from the main Java Web site, but don't worry - no new APIs have been added, just logically grouped.

Wherever you went, there was no denying it was a Sun conference. Apart from the Sun logo everywhere, the army of black T-shirts that wove in and out of the delegates - rushing back and forth between the main exhibit hall and the birds-of-a-feather sessions - were a testament to the fact that Sun had lost most of its workforce for those four days.

Speaking of BOFs, this year's offering explored every single aspect of the Java world. No matter what area of Java you were interested in, a BOF existed that allowed you to get closer to the engineers driving many of the APIs. This was good on a number of levels, as many of the attendees contribute to the various API mailing lists, and it was a great opportunity to be putting faces to the names that regularly invade inboxes. One complaint was that many of the sessions overflowed with people. This is a good sign in a way, as it highlights the popularity of these types of sessions. It will be interesting to see how Sun addresses this demand for knowledge next year.

Down in the main exhibitor hall an explosion of companies displayed their wares. If you remember, last year Sun took center stage, with all other companies on the periphery. The main problem with this was that the majority of delegates went to the Sun stand only and never ventured elsewhere. This year, Sun pulled a rabbit out of the hat by placing itself all around the outside edges and having the center filled with all third-party companies. This circulating technique worked wonderfully well, with many of the exhibitors I spoke to pleased with the amount of traffic flowing past.

As usual, Sun had a booth for each major API, manned by the actual chaps behind said API. This proved to be successful as it gave delegates the opportunity to quickly hone in on the particular area they wanted information on. I think this is a wonderful way to bring the backroom developer out into the fresh air once in a while. I've never been to a Microsoft conference, so I have no idea if Microsoft is brave enough to wheel out the poor team working on NT or 98.

We had our radio booth up in the media hall, and over the course of the four days we conducted well over 40 radio interviews. We had all the big names from Sun, including James Gosling, George Paolini and Bill Roth. In addition to this, a number of companies took the show opportunity to announce key press releases. We had them all. So drop by the main JDJ Web site to catch up on the latest press, and listen to our own Chad "voice of CNN" Sitler. What a voice that man has!

JavaOne 1999 was indeed a fantastic conference - probably the best I've ever attended, and I'm including non-Java ones in this statement. It had everything a Java developer could have wished for. Of course, there were things that could have been done better; there always are. But on the whole, I know I got a lot out of it, as did many of you that spoke to me about the whole show.

JavaOne 2000 will be held in the Moscone Center between June 5 and 8. This scares me. If the growth rate continues, then we'll simply have to ask the residents of San Francisco to move out for four days, and leave the lights on.

Until then, back to development I go.

 

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