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JavaOne 2003: The Big Picture

JavaOne 2003: The Big Picture

San Francisco's Moscone Center was awash with Java all week. What, though, was the underlying message for the Java platform itself?

(June 16, 2003) - Who better to turn to, for an overall impression of last week's JavaOne 2003 Developer Conference in San Francisco, than the Java-guy-to-end-all-Java-guys himself, James Gosling?

"If I had to pick one highlight of the whole week," James Gosling says, "it would be that I noticed that everyone was smiling."

"Last year," he explains, "there was a general feeling of gloom. It wasn't about Java at all, just a general gloom about life, the universe, and everything. This year was very upbeat and charged. And unlike the bubble years, when I'd ask folks what they were doing, the answers made sense. No fluffy concepts. No goofball math. Just real products. Real business plans. Real success. Very, very cool."

So, is Gosling's take on the Conference, which finished last Friday with a strong keynote address by CEO Scott McNealy, an accurate and complete representation of the overall event?

Certain commentators have been hinting that, while accurate, it is perhaps not complete. What lies at the heart of their concerns is what they perceive to be a "disconnect" running throughout the show. While JavaOne 2003 was a welcome breath of fresh air in terms of its many, many references to developers and in terms of the conference-long, unconditional access given to developer-centric publications like Java Developer's Journal, the "disconnect" was that it at times seemed more a status report on the health and prospects of Sun Microsystems than on the health and prospects of the Java platform itself.

William Grosso, for example, an architect and self-described "software activist" residing in the San Francisco Bay area, notes that the conference focus on ease of use was a good thing. "I don't have a problem," he says, "with making Java more accessible to a wider range of computer programmers, and eliminating a lot of the tedious and error-prone boilerplate code."

After all, Gross says, "It does solve an important problem."

"But it seems like a strange focus for a developer conference," he adds. In other words, fostering and accelerating the adoption of Java worldwide, while a perfectly understandable goal for Sun Microsystems the corporation, is somewhat less self-evidently the overriding strategic goal of the working Java developer.

"It makes sense as a corporate strategy," Grosso comments. "But is this the focus of a developer conference?"

Sun's own Simon Phipps feels that it is. Referencing Rich Green's Day Two keynote, he says that the idea of expanding the developer community resonates positively with him, particularly the part of the strategy concerning "the embrace of programming languages like PHP and Jython."

"Expanding the Scope, Not Lowering the Bar"

Expanding the range of languages that target the Java platform will bring with it the numerical expansion that Sun is committing itself to, Phipps believes, without merely "dumbing down" the whole notion of software development. "PHP and Jython programming isn't dumbed-down," Phipps maintains, "it's just the use of the tools that are fit for the job, and embracing a wider range of tools simply expands the scope rather than lowers the bar."

In other words Phipps does not completely agree with JDJ's own Alan Williamson, who is concerned that this year's JavaOne announcements and pronouncements by Jonathan Schwartz might be tantamount to a dropping of the threshold of what a "Java developer" actually is.

"Sun has historically treated the developer with respect," says Williamson, "giving them all the attention and kudos they craved."

"Java developers are real developers," he continues, "they don't want to be labeled with the Microsoft VB Marco crowd. Sun will have to be very careful in how they are going to take this forward without alienating and devaluing the current developer base."

Williamson is concerned, in other words, about where the new Sun trajectory may lead. So is Grosso. "I wonder where the current path winds up," Grosso comments. "I think Java has evolved quite rapidly," he adds. "While it's still a darn nice programming language, it's also becoming something else."

"Java is starting to become a LPL (languages-platforms-libraries) set," Grosso says. ("It's new acronym I just made up," he notes.)

What Grosso sees happening is that Java developers may increasingly be specializing to the point that the notion of a general-purpose "Java developer" becomes extinct.

"The primary skill required of a Java programmer these days," he explains, "seems to be significant expertise in some set of related specifications. I'm not sure why this bothers me so much. I understand why the trend evolved, and most of the specs seem quite nice, and they solve real-world problems. In isolation, they're all very good things. In combination, however, it feels like a bad thing."

Grosso admits though that coming away from JavaOne with The Big Picture is always very difficult. "Maybe I'm over-reacting to a small number of talks," he says.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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