Keep on rocking in the free code world

It’s not everyday that you get to meet a rock legend. It’s certainly not everyday that you get to go to a software development symposium and meet a rock legend.
Written by Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor

It’s not everyday that you get to meet a rock legend. It’s certainly not everyday that you get to go to a software development symposium and meet a rock legend. But after covering some general session keynote highlights this morning I got dragged (willingly) into a restricted meeting with veteran rocker Neil Young – he of ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Keep on Rocking in the Free World’ fame – as he (and his production company) have used Java technology to build a career retrospective archive project.

After a flurry of Java-themed presentations from the guys behind the Kindle e-book offering at Amazon.com and Sony Ericsson telling us how they now employ 'emotive design' (I mean come on, honestly!) into their products, we got to hear from Mr Young himself who has used Sun technology to build a Blu-ray Disk based archive of his complete works. Volume one (I think there about nine more to come) was shown in the demo today.

Rich Green, Neil Young, & Jonathan Schwartz at JavaOne'

Rich Green, Neil Young, & Jonathan Schwartz at JavaOne - Image courtesy of Sun Microsystems

In a later press meeting, Mr Young (Neil to his pals) enthused about the aims for his project explaining that he’d had the idea back in the eighties, but had been waiting for the technology to come along to make it possible. Detailing the decline in sound quality that he recognised when we moved to Compact Discs, he said he was happy with the current state of ‘24/192 resolution’ sound quality now available.

I asked him if he has used The Beatles Anthology work as a reference point in any way - and he gave me a rather flat, “No.” But he did follow it up (dark sunglasses firmly in place the whole time) with a more charitable, “But I guess music is global.” As well as a rock star style, “The ears are the windows to the soul!”

Sitting alongside Young in our meeting was Sun CEO and president Jonathan Schwartz who was at pains to emphasise his company’s relationship with the ageing rocker who once wrote a song about not selling out to the so-called ‘system’. “Whether you are a bank or whether you are Neil Young, this is about us providing Java as a means for communication with an audience,” said Schwartz. “In the same way as Java helps banks talk to their customers, we’re helping Neil talk to his audience and then we step out of the way.”

Hugely enjoyable though it was to meet a living legend, I couldn’t help feeling my questions on infrastructure and navigation features weren’t as interesting to him as the questions he received on his back catalogue from the Rolling Stone Magazine journalist on the other side of the table.

Schwartz used the meeting to reaffirm what he had earlier described as, “The 50,000 foot view of what we expect will be the next great developer platform.”

For Schwartz, there are four factors:

He wants to reach more and more devices across the planet, no matter what form factor – and he wants to reach them with Java.

The content has to be compelling and terrifically fast. It has to accessible to developers and accessible to consumers.

The Java platform, says Schwartz, will give developers more insight into the applications they build in order to allow them to understand the way users interact with the resultant technology.

Lastly – and for Schwartz most profoundly, the code will be free to travel where the market best demands that Java should run. “We’re not necessarily the people to make that decision, we are merely a technology provider,” he said.

Back with Mr Neil Young, he insisted that he is not selling out to Sun, instead saying, “I’m selling myself!”

“Originally the problem I had was that the sound quality wasn’t good enough, but the really cool thing now is the way Blu-ray technology works and the way you can navigate around the music I have created. The Java powered navigation system has made it possible to do things that would have never been previously possible in the music world,” said Young.

Slightly sardonic to the last, Young’s approached his earlier keynote demo with a playful smirk at the camera. After a number of demos had failed to work perfectly first time in the live stage environment he smiled and said, “This demo is fake, so you know it’s gonna work!”

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