Sun Prepares to Unleash Java Tiger

Next version of J2SE looks to give developers greater freedom.

Broadening the reach and appeal of Java is at the top of Sun Microsystems Inc.s list for the next major release of the platform, code-named Tiger, next year, although developers may not be ready to jump in.

The new version, J2SE (Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition) 1.5, will add technology from ongoing JSRs (Java Specification Requests) that will simplify development and smooth the language in four areas: ease of development; monitoring and manageability; scalability and performance; and XML and client-side Web services support, officials said.

The central JSRs, 201 and 175, now in the hands of the Java Community Process, address ease of use. JSR 201 comprises a new set of productivity-enhancing programming features for Java. JSR 175 is a metadata facility for Java programming that allows developers to annotate programs and limit the amount of code they need to write.

Joshua Bloch, a Sun engineer who heads both specifications, said much of the programming functionality of the Java language "has been the same since Version 1.1."

However, JSR 201 changes that with new features such as "typesafe enums," a syntax for defining enumerated types; "foreach" constructs, which allow for iteration over collections; and static import, which allows a developer to import a whole class of data simply, Bloch said.

John Zukowski, author, Java developer and president of Boston-based JZ Ventures Inc., said many developers have "rolled their own" solutions to many of the language issues addressed in J2SE 1.5, but "any language-level change can be considered a big shake."

As first reported by eWeek last month, Sun is working to make Java tools appeal to a broader audience of developers like Microsofts Visual Basic.

But some developers say, as far as the ease-of-use issue goes, Suns work may be too little, too late. "Its simply too late," said Jeff Madrak, a consultant and software developer in Drexel Hill, Pa. "Im a LAMP [Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP] guy now."

Stephen Hubbard, a senior programmer analyst with the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, could use these types of changes. Hubbard listed "messed-up enumerated types" among his peeves about Java.

"I am not a Microsoft [Corp.] booster or a proponent of C#, but my feeling is that Sun has come close to blowing it by its bureaucratic slowing of Javas development and by not quickly addressing Javas fundamental flaws," Hubbard said.

A Sun spokeswoman said a typical JSR takes 18 months to go through the standards process.

For monitoring and manageability, "were looking at putting some observability features in the Java virtual machine," said Karen Shipe, product line manager for the J2SE platform, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Some performance issues will be handled by adding some performance ergonomics for the HotSpot JVM, Shipe said. And for XML and Web services support, Sun will pull technologies from its Java Web Services Development Pack, as well as other APIs for making XML work closely with Java.

All of this, represented by various JSRs, will find its way into Tiger, Shipe said, giving developers a standard way for handling these functions.

Eventually, the features will land in Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition, which is based on J2SE but tends to lag about a year behind J2SE in terms of release cycle.