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JavaOne 2005 Desktop Rehash

Posted by chet on July 5, 2005 at 9:28 AM PDT

I'm still recovering from last week's JavaOne conference. Like any recovering *aholic, maybe I just need to wallow in it a little more before I can admit to myself that I have a problem and can actually start doing something about it.

But in the meantime, I'm musing on the stuff I saw last week, the stuff I didn't get a chance to see, and the impact that the conference (especially the Desktop track) had on the attendees.

Here are some random thoughts I had on the various things I was able to enjoy:

  • GUI Makeover talks: Both of these talks were given to packed houses, a pretty good indicator of either "extreme" interest in snazzy and permant GUIs or the success of catchy session titles. I loved the demos and presentations in the "Looking Good" session and Dmitri's tips in the "Running Fast" session were all pertinent and well-motivated by examples.
  • "Advanced" 2D": I think the title of this session was a bit unfortunate (the title was chosen before we wrote the presentation, and the two diverged from the start). Instead, I thought it was more like "Advanced 2D for Swing programmers", rather than "Advanced 2D for 2D programmers". Nevertheless, we crafted this session after hearing from our survey several months ago that people wanted to hear more about 2D. Having a Swing-focused (rather than a graphics-focused) session seemed a better idea than aiming straight at the (smaller) crowd of pure graphics geeks. Attendance was moderate; I'm sure this was because of conflict with the late-running keynote, right?
  • Declaritive GUIs: I was surprised to see just moderate attendance at this session by Hans, given the number of people screaming at us about this topic over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, it was an interesting survey of the stuff out there, and useful in ongoing investigations into what forays we should make into this area for Swing.
  • Layout Roundup: I have to give Scott and Kathy credit here; I never thought someone could cover 119 slides in 50 minutes, at least not without audio effects to speed up their speech. But they did so comfortably and understandably, covering a lot of layout territory and giving some nice demos and screen shots.
  • Architecting Complex Swing Apps: Great talk by Ben Galbraith about simple concepts that apps need to deal with and that frameworks should (and could) handle for them (such as simple ways to institute better threading behavior in Swing apps).
  • Swing Hacks: I caught the end of this session, but it seemed well-attended and enthusiastic (both audience and speakers). The book was a hot commodity at the conference, I guess the talk was too.
  • GUI Puzzlers: This was a first for us; a session whose intent was amusement as much as education (although there was serious group thought put into coming up with material that would also be educational). I think people enjoyed themselves, or at least the two guys on stage did.
  • Document-Based Java Application: This was a talk by someone from MapleSoft on their Maple product; a math solving/charting/documenting/graphing app apparently used in about 95% of universities (yow!). Interesting talk on the architecture of this relatively mature and huge Swing application (although I must admit to brain fatigue from the above Puzzlers talk that made it difficult to absorb anything in this and further sessions).
  • Desktoop BOFs: These "Meet the * Team" sessions are always fun with lots of good Q&A.

I look at the list above and realize how much I missed at the conference; there was so much more going on, both in the Desktop track and all of the other tracks as well. Dang, if only I could clone myself for that week, then maybe the rest of me's could go to all of the other sessions. Or maybe they'd just go out to parties all week instead and I'd have ten times the hangover.

But now I wonder, in the vacuum of post-conference serenity and July 4th vacation: how well did the Desktop track work for you?

This isn't idle curiosity; I helped (along with other people critical to the track's success, such as Scott Violet, Bino George, Stanley Ho, Thorsten Laux, and Roger Brinkley) organize the Desktop track this year. So at the end of it all, it's natural to ask "Did it work?"

I'll tell you some of the things we tried this year for the Desktop track to put this in context; these are things that may have been new this year, or at least had focused effort on. Of course there was also the usual talk selection, talk preparation, mad demo writing the night before our talks, talk presentation, and the ongoing conference recovery period...

  • Technical depth: We hear every year that people want more technical depth. We really tried to do this, both with our talks and with talks we accepted from outside Sun. One of the tricks here is that a talk that goes really deep might just dig itself into a hole down which noone can follow. Case in point: I believe that a truly "Advanced 2D" talk would probably leave most of the audience behind, because the number of attendees that are actually "advanced" 2D developers is probably relatively small. So the focus on making the talk "advanced" for Swing developers seemed right; make it nice and deep, but not in a niche that would frighten (or bore) away the majority of desktop developers.
  • External talks: We made a special effort to attract external speakers (especially known speakers in the Java community, or hot topics on non-Sun technologies) to make sure we weren't just flooding the track with Sun sessions. It's a bit tricky doing this because there's obviously internal JDK stuff that people want to hear that comes from Sun, and many external talks end up being case studies (which can be interesting ... but can also not be in-depth enough; see my comments above on technical depth). But I think the mix was pretty good this year and we had some very excellent external speakers and sessions.
  • Trendy topics: We tried to cover lots of topics that desktop developers are very hot on these days, such as frameworks (Ben's talk), layout (a perennial "GUI development is hard!" topic), declarative GUI support, tips for making apps look good and run faster (the Makeover talks as well as Swing Hacks), Eclipse RCP, Deployment, and interesting case studies.
  • Ask the Sun Experts: I was a bit disappointed in the attendance of this one; we had most of the major Sun engineering groups present to answer any hardball questions in roundtable discussions on Monday night, but I saw relatively few developers taking advantage of this. Was it that noone had questions? (I doubt that, given the hard questions asked during sessions and BOFs). Was it poorly advertised? (Something I would believe, but don't quite know how to fix). Or was it that everyone already had enough access to the engineering groups through the various sessions, BOFs, and pods and didn't need another q&a forum?
  • Bribes: I was totally excited that we got some marketing budget for minor handouts at the desktop pods (t-shirts, pens, and desktop flyers). I think the flyers did a really nice job of laying out the desktop-related events at the conference (something I've always thought the program guide doesn't do very well). Hopefully people got use out of the flyers, and managed to pick up some trinkets along the way.

If you have any opinions on what worked, or what didn't, or what you liked, or didn't, or what you'd like to see next year, please comment below or post on a forum I created under Conferences/JavaOne 2005 Discussion. Heck, if I go to all this effort again, I'd like to make it count for something...

Now, back to my vacation and recovery period...