I've recently returned from the razzmatazz of the eighth JavaOne in San Francisco. The 2003 conference was characterized by a massive drive back to the developer, with Sun Microsystems attempting to win back our hearts and put its arm around us all in a virtual hug.
Commendable. I fear, however, that Sun may have forgotten who or what the developer is.
Take the keynotes, for example. Usually notable affairs, they set the tone for the coming year and basically cheer us up and embolden us to face the challenges ahead. This year we had three keynotes, all from Sun executives, with Scott McNealy saved for the last day. The conference opened with Jonathan Schwartz, who just doesn't seem to warm to the geek crowd at all. His keynote on Day One had the lamest of demos that didn't impress the hard-core Java audience who were waiting (and willing) to be awed.
Sadly, the Rich Green part of Day Two was equally uninteresting. It was at the point when "Project Rave" was unveiled - the tool Sun is counting on to rival Visual Studio for ease of use and speed - that Sun seemed to have forgotten who their audience is. Green was enthusing about how Sun wants to increase the current 3 million Java developers to 10 million, and explained how these 7 million new developers within the Java ecosystem would be called "Java Corporate Developers" - in other words, scripters (or, as I heard one person say, "drag'n'droppers").
While we all applaud this new move to increase our developer base, it needs to be done in such a way so as not to alienate the current developer community, or patronize or undervalue the existing Java developers in any way while introducing this new breed of developer.
Microsoft, with their legions of Visual Basic developers, has proven that such a community does indeed exist and we really do need to reach out and bring them into the fold somehow. Whether Project Rave is the vehicle to bring them in is yet to be seen. Sun, historically, has not fared too well at creating developer tools, but obviously we'll reserve judgment until we see it.
Fortunately the level of keynotes picked up immensely the moment James Gosling took the stage. This was pure gold and worth the trip. He was his classic self, drawing out the "geek streak" that's deep-rooted in us all. Gosling took us through a wide range of different "cool" projects that definitely make you proud to be in the Java field.
Scott McNealy ended the conference with an entertaining and uplifting talk, especially since he's eased off the Microsoft bashing somewhat and let his own personality come through. Java has finally arrived and I got the impression that he was proud at last to be standing up there stating facts about Java, as opposed to the overhyping of previous years.
Sun also unveiled two new Web sites: www.java.net and www.java.com. The .com site is specifically for consumers, to enable them to come to grips with Java and to get the latest software installed on their machine. The java.net site is aimed at us, i.e., Java (corporate?) developers. It's a mishmash of SourceForge, JavaBlogs, TheServerSide, and JGuru all rolled into one. It looks good and has the potential to be very popular, even though it's arguably some five years late in coming!
The question remains, should they have done it at all? Isn't it a greater validation of our language to have external sites pick up and run with the ball that Sun failed to carry forward so many years ago? Sun will need to navigate its way through the next six months very carefully, very carefully indeed.
Our community demands and deserves respect, and it is up to each and every one of us to make sure Sun doesn't sell us short. Sun needs to innovate and not emulate (Microsoft) if it is to succeed in growing the developer space for Java.
About The Author
Alan Williamson, when not answering your e-mails and working on the next issue of JDJ, heads up a small team dubbed the "Thunderbirds of the Java industry," providing on- and offsite rescue for Java projects in trouble. For more information visit www.javaSOS.com. You can also read his blog: http://alan.blog-city.com.