JavaOne 2002: Write the Apps, the Money Will Follow

Peter Coffee: After straying too far into marketing, Sun restores focus on development chores at its annual conference.

Developer issues will be the central concern of IT for the next several years. The platform choices, the tools, and the new ways of thinking about loosely coupled asynchronous interactions—Web services, for short—completely overshadow rising chip speeds, growing network bandwidth, pervasive wireless connections and other enabling technologies.

Hence, the following notes from this years JavaOne.

I skipped the JavaOne conference in 2001—I almost wrote, "boycotted"—because the event in 2000 spent so much time exhorting attendees, "make money with Java!" I named the 2000 event as the years biggest waste of time in eWEEK Labs subsequent year-end report: The JavaOne 2000 keynote session felt like an Amway meeting.

The 2001 JavaOne was the first one that I had ever missed. (Darn, my JavaOne backpack collection will never be complete.) I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when this years opening JavaOne keynote apologized for the commercial tone of both the 2000 and 2001 conferences, promising a return of focus to developers concerns—and inspiring appreciative applause.

The session slides from the huge technical program will be offered online beginning this week for those of you who could not (or chose not to) come in person. (I dont have the URL for these as this is written, but check the conference home page for details.)

Portable devices were top-of-mind at this years conference, with over a thousand developers taking advantage of a discount price on Sharps Linux-based Zaurus handheld and participating in associated coding competitions.

"Were nearing the hundred million number," said Suns John Gage in his opening keynote remarks, describing the rapid adoption of Java in non-PC devices. But the distinctive difference between PCs and other consumer electronics is that only PCs are allowed to fail in routine use. Sun Fellow Rob Gingell, appearing with Gage, said that, "A characteristic of these technologies is that you have to do them very well."

Gingell added, "Its more interesting to do operating systems now, as the compatibility constraints move into the higher levels." Thats a point worth pondering: An operating system provider used to make all the rules that mattered in its own space, but now every OS has to work within a standards-based federation of other systems. Some companies may find this a difficult transition.

What really levels the playing field in services is ease of market entry through paths other than preloaded PC operating systems or big-name service portals, and Nokias JavaOne presentation demonstrated an approach to this goal in the companys Tradepoint Java Broker Service—a Web-based marketplace in which services vendors can demonstrate and sell their wares.

Another major change in leveling the applications playing field is the resurrection of Java as a credible option for writing portable desktop applications, especially in view of the major improvements in Java on the Macintosh under Mac OS X.

One of the central issues for distributed applications is authentication: The certainty that a participant is who he claims to be, and that an action is taking place at the claimed location and time. Remember the movie "The Sting"? Its amazing what you can accomplish by manipulating identities and time stamps in network-based transactions.

Part of JavaOnes general anti-Microsoft aura, therefore, was a continuing reminder that platform choice is not the only politico-religious issue at hand: Theres also the matter of Passport. Ive personally asked Microsoft representatives, more than once, "Who owns my data in Passport? Can I remove it, with assurance that no trace remains?" Ive never been able to get an answer, and that troubles me and many other observers even more than Passports technical risks.

Faced with monolithic service offerings such as Passport, the creation of alternative platforms and services is the ever-more-vigorous mission of the open-source community: Those developers must be pleased with the Tuesday JavaOne announcement of a significant opening of Java licensing to open-source arrangements.

Ive barely scratched the surface of this years JavaOne experience, but I dont plan to spend my next several newsletters finishing the job. There are other topics, after all. But by all means, take advantage of the resources that Sun makes available from this event. Whether youre using Java or some other technology, there are insights to be had from the JavaOne sessions into next-generation development opportunities.

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