When someone asks where Java technology is going, its reasonable to ask in reply, "Which Java do you mean?" The attractive upsides and the offsetting issues are quite distinct for Java the deployment platform, Java the application interface portfolio and Java the object-oriented programming language.
Each of these three aspects of the Java brand presents its own open doors to IT innovators and enterprise IT users. In some cases, those open doors are at least partially blocked by barriers to adoption that require planning and effort to overcome. This eWEEK Labs report explores some of these opportunities and risks in the context of this years JavaOne conference, held late last month in San Francisco.
As a deployment platform, Java offers developers an expanding horizon of access to new markets. In his JavaOne keynote remarks, Sun Microsystems Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz estimated that what he calls "the Java economy" already totals more than $100 billion in annual activity, with revenue streams such as $3 billion in Java-based games for mobile handsets.
An installed base of 350 million handsets represents a sizable population of clients for prospective enterprise service offerings. Consumer markets also drive volume—not just of hardware but also of developer skills.
The compatibility of Javas mobile variant across all those devices, and the larger umbrella of Java compatibility across everything from smart cards to supercomputers, is crucial to ubiquity, "and, with ubiquity, you can chase developers who deliver creativity," Schwartz said.
The result: "Javas beginning to wend its way into some pretty interesting places," such as automobiles, said Schwartz. "I asked an automobile manufacturer, Whats the price at which, if you could sell online services to the automobile, you could give away the automobile for free? Without batting an eye, that auto companys CFO said, $220," Schwartz told his JavaOne audience. "Now think about that.
"If they can start delivering movies and news and entertainment and dinner reservation services and all the rest of that to the automobile, and they can get you to subscribe for $220 a month, the automobiles will become free. How disruptive do you think thats going to be?" asked Schwartz to a roar of laughter and applause.
"Do you know a 17-year old who would pay $5 to download a custom horn tone to his car? I do," he said.
Cellular phone games and automotive environments pave the way for new enterprise applications on nontraditional clients: The ease of use required for games and the hands-free and eyes-free interaction needed in the automobile are also desirable qualities for the shop floor or the retail environment.
Javas spread beyond enterprise desktops and servers may reduce the perception that Java is a stalking horse for Suns often-colorful war against Windows. Java-based games enjoy preference among handset users because they deliver more functionality; Java-based interfaces in automobiles will take advantage of the satellite wireless connections, flat-panel displays and other infrastructure that manufacturers are already building.
"Its not Sun thinking about putting services into an automobile, its Siemens and BMW," Schwartz said, returning to center stage after a presentation in which a new BMW rolled out with an advanced Java-based navigation and entertainment system.
Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy offered another measure of the breadth of the Java community in his own keynote remarks the following day, observing that more than half of all Java Specification Requests are led by organizations other than Sun.
Java already runs on platforms from smart cards to supercomputers—and now to Mars rovers, said McNealy, noting the use of Java in planning recent Mars rover missions.
However, Schwartz acknowledged that broader use of the Java platform depends on radical improvement in ease of development; specifically, as a portfolio of application elements and as a general-purpose programming language.
McNealys keynote remarks took the measure of the Java communitys progress in extending and enriching the portfolio of Java specifications. "I give us a grade of B" for speed in bringing new specifications to fruition, he said. "But perhaps thats too harsh, unless it stands for Better than any other process or organization or strategy for getting innovation done in a compatible and safe way.
"To drive openness, fairness, participation among competitive organizations, and to keep the compatibility there, takes time to do right," McNealy said.
That leaves the Java language itself—and its accessibility to developers—as the third frontier. The efforts of Sun and other Java toolmakers are stories in themselves. We survey the state of play in the Java language and tools—and the challenges that come along with the improvements—in a separate story.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at email@example.com.