What Are Sun's Chances with RIA?

Sun has yet to deliver an entry into the rich Internet application race but still may have a shot if it executes.

Sun Microsystems finally put some meat on its JavaFX rich Internet application platform plans last week at JavaOne, and I applauded the company. But the core technology is coming more than a year after the company initially announced its RIA plans at JavaOne 2007. And a software development kit will not be available until July. And that's just a preview version-a more complete version is not expected until this fall.

Meanwhile, Adobe remains the standard in the RIA space with Flash and Flex and is making hay with Adobe AIR. And Microsoft is packing plenty of its energy into its Silverlight RIA platform.


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Adobe's Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch told eWEEK that there are about 12 million downloads a day of Flash Player 9. Microsoft officials have said Silverlight currently does about 1.5 millions downloads a day and is expected to grow to about 2.5 million downloads a day in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Sun is clinging to hopes that Java's ubiquity will drive adoption of JavaFX. The company claims there are more than 40 million downloads of updates to the Java run-time each month, and that the Java run-time already resides on more than 900 million desktops and more when devices are added to the picture.

Sun also bashes both Adobe and Microsoft for the openness of their respective platforms. But how do you unseat a de facto standard? By preannouncing and still arriving late for the party? No. You do so by delivering what you say and making sure it's solid and beneficial for developers. And so far the jury's still out on Sun in the RIA space.

Dion Almaer, an RIA segment watcher as co-founder of Ajaxian.com, has criticized Adobe for its openness in the RIA space, but regarding Sun's chances of successfully competing with Adobe and Microsoft, he said: "Slim to none. I think they [Sun] are going after the wrong market. They don't have this in their DNA, so deal with it and work with others that do. This is shown in one simple example. JavaFX looks different to Java in silly ways. The explanation is, 'This isn't for Java programmers, it is for designers.' Yet, everyone at the JavaOne conference, and everyone they can reach, are Java programmers."

I'm not as sure as Dion. He lives a lot closer to this stuff than I do. Adobe, Microsoft and Sun are all working on solving basically the same problem. But my motto is: Make it simple, make it useful and, most of all, make it work. If Sun delivers on those three and helps developers and designers work together more efficiently, then they've got a chance to make some inroads. I'm willing to test-drive a new car if it can get me where I need to go faster and cheaper-especially in these times of gas going for four bucks a gallon.