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Industry Watch, by Alan Williamson

What a busy time it's been for us all. I'm not talking about the preparation of our titles. No, I'm referring to the fact that we seem to be in a mood for producing babies. First, Ajit Sagar, our resident XML guru, and his wife Seema gave birth to their first child this past summer. Next was Miles Silverman, SYS-CON Media's sales dude, in early November. Now me. Yes, I am now the proud owner of a brand new baby boy. Cormac Robert Williamson logged onto the world on St. Andrew's day (November 30) here in Scotland. Being his father's son, he has been hard at work already and by Day #2 he had his own Web site up and running at www.cormac-williamson.com. That's ma boy!

May They Rest in Peace
As some of you know, I've been running a wee miniseries here chronicling some of the less fortunate dot-com companies and their demise from the IP network. Over the past three months I've listed many of them. Sadly, the list only gets longer. One thing I'd like to point out: we seem to be in good company. The Wall Street Journal has published a list of failed dot-coms - the exact same companies I've been highlighting. Coincidence? You decide.

Should we as Java developers be worried? For example, according to the WSJ, five companies alone that have filed for bankruptcy account for around 700 people now in the market looking for work. Who knows what skill levels these people have? It would be a bit naive of me to assume that all of them were Java people. A very small percentage, I'd wager. So I think we needn't worry about our jobs just yet.

I've been thinking about why a lot of these companies are going down the tubes, so to speak. You could say to yourself, Why should I care? I don't work for them. Well, that's one way of looking at it, but, especially here at n-ary, when a dot-com failure hits the headlines, family and friends always look to us to ask why, and if it's going to affect us or not. Generally no, but these failures aren't doing the industry as a whole any good. For people that only see black and white, we can easily be tarred with the same brush, and this can be detrimental to everyone.

I sometimes think the media has a big hand in it. It appears to be in love with stories about Internet start-ups going down. The bigger the number lost, the better headlines it makes. In other sectors, if a company is to fail it makes it to the headlines only if more than a hundred jobs are at stake. Even at that, it's generally only the local headlines. It would appear the Internet entrepreneurs make for better reading.

It's well known that the majority of companies fail in their first two years of trading. Only a small minority make it past this milestone. Interestingly enough, I couldn't sleep one night and caught an analyst on the BBC News 24 channel talking about Internet years being something similar to dog years: one year of bricks 'n' mortar is equivalent to five to seven years for an Internet company. If this is true - and I can see some logic in it - these CEOs should be commended for making it past six months, let alone two years. The same report looked at how salaries were starting to come down in this sector as companies struggled with their cash flow every month. Running a company myself, I know only too well the need to keep a steady cash flow. A lot easier said than done at times.

I've been digging around looking at various reasons why these companies fail. Surprisingly, there isn't one obvious common denominator. Many reasons are cited: cash flow, overinflated expectations, high salaries, delivery problems, high cost of technology - the list goes on. But I guess this is business; every case is different.

Granted, I have to hold my hand up and admit some responsibility here. For what am I doing but drawing attention to failures? I'm as bad as the journalists I'm chastizing. So for that I bow my head in shame and slowly scuffle out of the room.

What do you think of this wireless revolution we appear to be going through? Are you sitting on the fence waiting for the hype to die down, or are you developing w-applets for your Palms and Nokias? I've been following this world very attentively, and had my son not decided to make an appearance when he did, I would have been at SYS-CON Media's Wireless DevCon Conference in San Jose last month. On the whole, I think it's a great time we're in, as we're just now seeing the move away from our desks. God only knows what my son, Cormac, will be used to when he heads off to university.

Reading various articles on where wireless is making inroads into the office environment, I can't help thinking we're missing something. Yeah, sure, we're networking our devices without the dreaded wires. So what? What difference does that really make? House phones had this a long time ago - the ability to have a base station and have the phone anywhere in the house. But not all is rosy in the world of wireless. Ask my father. He curses about the fact he can't find the phone any more; at least when it was tied to the wall he knew where to go and get it.

To this end, I can understand exactly where people like my father are coming from. So the wireless industry has to start innovating and stop making the devices that are already wireless. We need to see a new wave of devices that work with us and don't become a novelty or hindrance. I for one lose my mobile phone on a regular basis. I then have to ring it and play hide-and-seek to retrieve the bugger. I live in fear of the time I can take everything off my desk and take it with me - I'll never find it.

The biggest pain I find is power. Plugging in a small RJ45 cable is no big deal for me. This is easy. But the power? This is where the work for wireless should go. I'm not a physicist, so I have no idea if the Star Trek technology of having wireless power is possible. Can someone with a physics background come back to me on this? Wouldn't this be the ultimate dream? The ability to draw power from the airwaves, so to speak. This would impact people in every walk of life and have a profound effect on the cabling industry as a whole.

Imagine, if you will, your toaster. Not only would it have an IP address, but it would be a small plastic box that sat anywhere in the kitchen and browned whenever bread was popped in. No ugly power cables draping over the drain board. Hurrah!

That's the wireless world I'm looking forward to.

Way Cool
In December I was introduced to some very sexy Java at work. In fact, I was so excited that I simply had to collar the main man behind it for an interview, which, I'm proud to say, appears in this very issue of JDJ. I'm referring to Steve Rock from EGBS. If you haven't read the interview, go and read it now. Bookmark this line and come back to me.

Read it? Isn't that just wild? Okay. For those of you that didn't bother going to read it, allow me to fill you in. What Steve and his team have built is a full media server that allows the producer, and viewer, to bookmark and tag particular areas within a video and attach either links or notes to them.

For example, say you were watching The Matrix with Samuel L. Jackson and you thought the sunglasses he was wearing looked pretty cool. Well, using Steve's technology, you could simply click on the glasses and be taken to a Web site for more information or to purchase them. This stuff is years ahead of its time. Only when we start watching on-demand content will we see this kind of technology come more into our lives.

This sort of thing opens up the world...and not just to the advertising community. You could, for example, click on a particular on-screen character and be fed information pertaining to that character's background and history. The uses for this sort of interactive tagging are endless and very exciting.

But what gives me the extra buzz is that it's all done in Java. This blows my mind. Allow me to tell you why. As a developer, and in this instance a Java developer, it excites me to be in an industry that can benefit and touch so many people's lives. To be able to sit down with your family of an evening and look at how they watch a particular TV program or movie, and then go to work the next day and develop a new interface or improved way of working. We are in an exciting industry and one that touches every other industry. We are so lucky that we can be in a position to explore many of our passions at the same time.

For Steve and his team, working on their Spectrum product allows them to get closer to the world of streamed content. It takes them into fields of producers and directors, and I for one, being a movie buff, wish them all the best.

If you and your team are putting Java to use in a different way, please drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you.

And with that, the score of Armageddon is coming to an end, and I had better close off and head on home to see how Cormac is doing.

Author Bio
Alan Williamson is CEO of the first pure Java company in the UK, n-ary (consultancy) Ltd (www.n-ary.com), a Java solutions company specializing in delivering real-world applications with real-world Java. Alan has authored two Java servlet books and contributed to the servlet API. [email protected]


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