In the run-up to today's launch of JavaFX, ZDNet sat down with Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz to get his thoughts on JavaFX, Flash, and the future of Java.
[Ed] Q. Why did Sun create JavaFX?
[Jonathan] At a top level, we see three real imperatives that are driving us towards the FX platform. The first, that seems evident to the companies that I talk to, is that the browsers have become hostile environments. Microsoft obviously controls the default settings and configuration for Internet Explorer, Google obviously has the pole position with their payment stream to Firefox as well as with Chrome, and none of the other browsers really has the distribution that would cause them to be a focal point for developers. But, the Java platform obviously has that distribution, and in fact that distribution is so profound at this point--we do from 60 to 80 million downloads a month--that you probably know Microsoft recently struck a contract with Sun where we'd agree to share that distribution with Microsoft because we in fact out-distribute Microsoft into their own installed base.
We see developers wanting to own their audiences, and own their ability to establish a relationship with those audiences. If you know about the un-snapping feature in JavaFX now you can see how a developer can deliver content and then simply have the consumer un-snap it and place it on their desktop. After they've done that, they now have unilateral access to the consumer they're trying to serve, as opposed to having to go through a TicketMaster that might be interested in promoting their business.
Next: Two more reasons >
[Jonathan] The second issue we see is that for a lot of developers they're beginning to see that proliferation of mobile phones and smart phones and netbooks and new desktops--much less dashboards and set-top boxes--there's obviously a huge array of new Internet clients emerging, and they don't want to have to build content for each client one by one. The Java platform through JavaFX gives them the capacity to build rich applications for all of those devices with a minimal set of development activity. And again, you can also see that these are devices which have support for various and sundry different technologies, an the Java platform pretty much runs across every one of them.
The final point is that for a lot of the traditional businesses that Sun serves, a lot of enterprises, they've already got skill around Java and network services, and they want to understand how they can expose those pre-existing systems out to the Internet without having to target device by device. The FX platform gives them a rich vehicle through which they can present everything from time-based media to complex interactions and algorithms through a very high performance computing platform.
So for those reasons it seems like now's the time for us to really put our best foot forward and deliver the most compelling Java platform we've ever delivered.
[Ed] Q. Would you say that last point is the main reason someone would consider JavaFX over Adobe Flash/Flex?
[Jonathan] Well, I think the reasons why the developers we talk to are so interested in JavaFX over some of its peers is first and foremost because we out-distribute almost all of them. Remember, we distribute something like 60-80 million runtimes a month, and that out-distributes pretty much everybody. I think that for developers, the first and almost exclusive thing they care about is volume--how do you get me to a volume audience. We can deliver that with exceptional agility given the ease with which we can push out new content to the Java community. Again, you need only look at the Microsoft contract as a proof-point for that.
But I think certainly familiarity... Java remains the number 1 language instructed across the world. So we continue to see an overwhelming number of developers who want to create content, get it out to the audience, and then innovate in ways other platforms may not support.
From a developer's perspective there are a few other things--obviously there's the fact that the platform is now completely open source, is available on everything from handsets to consumer electronics devices--just a while variety of things that our competition really can't do because their platforms aren't open source or don't connect to traditional business systems, or frankly have been focused on PCs as opposed to the world of mobile content around them. The US tends to be very fixated on desktops but I think we're somewhat isolated in that regard. The rest of the world is more focused on mobile handsets, and clearly that's where Java has been focused as well. This allows us to bring it back on the desktop.
Next: Is Swing dead? >
[Ed] Q. Over time, should we expect to see a de-emphasis of regular Java APIs like Swing in favor of JavaFX?
[Ed] Q. JavaFX was developed outside the JCP/JSR process. Does Sun still believe in the JCP like it once did?
[Jonathan] We believe in the JCP as a vehicle for establishing standards. The JCP, given its very nature, has been a tough place to innovate. So, we're going to certainly work with other JCP members on trying to build standards around the innovations that we're all creating. I mean, all the members of the JCP are very innovative inventive companies. I think the JCP is best seen as a means of establishing standards rather than a means of kind of up-ending history with disruptive innovations.
[Ed] Q. What's the take-away message for developers regarding today's launch?
[Jonathan] The take-away message for developers is two things: First, the proof is in the pudding. Go download NetBeans with the new JavaFX and go give it a whirl, and you'll get a sense pretty quickly for what you're able to do that you wouldn't be able to do with other technologies or even with the historic Java platform.
The second message is a different one for developers, one I think that many have already picked up on in the past few years, which is: Audience is everything. You have to own your own audience if you want to own your own business. Browsers have become hostile, I don't think that's news, and the Java platform with JavaFX specifically enables you to own your own audience. To the extent you want to build your own social network, you don't want to have to navigate through someone else's default settings to build an audience. Whether you're building a new network service, a new social service, or a utility service, owning your own audience is core to creating opportunity and that's what we want to enable developers to do.
[Ed] Q. Should we expect to see JavaFX appear on more devices to reach more of that audience?
[Jonathan] JavaFX will be a unified platform that spans mobile devices, netbooks, dashboards, consumer electronics, and desktop PCs. It may seem like niches today, but ATM machines, gas pumps, billboards... I mean really the marketplace for the Internet is as broad as humanity and the globe. So we're going to take JavaFX to wherever the Internet goes. We're not the ones pre-supposing that we can identify all those devices today. I think if you'd asked someone 10 years ago to identify whether the Internet would be running on a picture frame or on an automobile, no one would have guessed it, but today that's kind of a ho-hum event. Just go walk through a consumer electronics store and you'll see where JavaFX will be running.
[Ed] Like toys?
[Jonathan] A lot of what used to be gimmicks 3-4 years ago; they're just not gimmicks any more. They're actually kind of interesting and engaging. It's everything from the evolution of sensor platforms to gaming platforms--it's incredible what's going on, and we want to be a part of that in a bigger way than we have historically.