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i-Technology Viewpoint: Google's GWT "May Change Web Development Forever"

Google's GWT – The Most Important Announcement At JavaOne?

Time is a brutal enemy of youth and exuberance. Time makes cynics of us all. Time is the universal truth serum that reveals all authenticity. Time will tell, but the announcement yesterday by Google may change the faces of AJAX development, strike that, Google's announcement may change web development for evermore. This cynic heard an announcement yesterday that changed his viewpoint and beliefs on the future of web development.

Certainly, in the recent past, the chances of doing an entire application in AJAX seemed remote for the vast sea of developers. The thought of writing a rich application in JavaScript, for most developers, is total anathema - akin to having one's body shaved and thrust into a pool of warm alcohol.

Please don’t write and plead for a change in my aversion to writing metric tons of JavaScript, for my heart isn't in it  - as most developers' hearts aren't in it. It is not so much the writing of JavaScript as it is the lack for tools...and the horror of debugging it. Sure tools exist but they are a far cry from what you get in the Java world.

Writing JavaScript is like changing a baby’s diaper: you don’t like to do it, but you love your child and you do it anyway. You may not like to write JavaScript, but you want to deliver richer applications for your end users so you may do it anyway. Dare I say the best developers are the ones that love their end-users?

Thus the missing ingredient is the ability for Java developers to develop AJAX applications in Java instead of JavaScript, i.e., to take the smell and rank out of it. This would allow a vast community of developers to develop rich web applications where before a select few script-heads would dare go.

Enter stage left the contender for changing the way, once and for all, the world uses the web: Google!

Google just introduced the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), a free, publicly available Java development framework. This framework allows developers to develop and debug applications in Java and deploy them in AJAX. The Google approach to AJAX development is to avoid JavaScript (for most developers anyway).

You can write all of your AJAX code in plain old Java. You can debug it. Use breakpoints.

They have a plug-in where they allow your code to run in the browser and hook back to your Java code. Then when your code is ready to deploy, you run the translator that converts your Java code into JavaScript code that can run on any browser - or so the vision states. They also have an RPC mechanism to call back to Java objects on the server for data and business rule validation. The Java code looks like AWT, Swing or perhaps SWT code. In other words, it is what most rich GUI app developers are familiar with.

The framework is also extensible, so if your favorite Dojo JavaScript widgets don’t exist you can extend the framework to support them. Most developers won’t have to do this, but you can.

One of the Google examples is an Outlook clone. It doesn't look like a web application. It looks like a rich application. If it all seems too good to be true, you are right. However, if even half of it is true, this changes everything.

Cynicism is good. Without cynicism you will be driven hither and dither, to and fro, back and forth with each new buzzword, and vendor marketing claims. However, cynicism must be balanced with potentially the most disruptive technology. The mantra at JavaOne seems to be JSF, JSF, JSF, NetBeans, NetBeans, NetBeans,. AJAX, AJAX, and AJAX. Never mind that Eclipse is the dominant developer platform by far, and most vendors that have a plug-in seem to target Eclipse first, and certainly Google has followed this model with model with GWT and released with Eclipse plug-ins.

Among the noise, there is this announcement from a company that started the AJAX phenomenon and has the most popular AJAX applications. Is this announcement from Google the most important announcement for AJAX and the most important announcement at JavaOne? It is too soon to tell if this is the most important message at JavaOne 2006 due to how much reality and robustness is in the GWT, but the potential is there. Time will tell.

More Stories By Rick Hightower

Rick Hightower serves as chief technology officer for ArcMind Inc. He is coauthor of the popular book Java Tools for Extreme Programming, which covers applying XP to J2EE development, and also recently co-authored Professional Struts. He has been working with J2EE since the very early days and lately has been working mostly with Maven, Spring, JSF and Hibernate. Rick is a big JSF and Spring fan. Rick has taught several workshops and training courses involving the Spring framework as well as worked on several projects consulting, mentoring and developing with the Spring framework. He blogs at http://jroller.com/page/RickHigh.

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