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Doomsday Clock

Posted by editor on July 23, 2007 at 7:13 AM PDT

Java to kill Flash, or Ajax to kill both, by next year?

Joshua Marinacci is sounding very re-energized about client Java, as he describes in his blog Java FX updated, and a visit to the future of client Java:

I've spent the last week in the bay area at secret clandestine meetings secretly planning the amazing top secret future of client Java and Java FX! Okay, that makes an endless week of meetings sound a lot more interesting than it really is, but there's some truth to it. We promised a lot of things at JavaOne, from designer tools to the consumer release of the JRE, and based on what I've seen in the last week I can say that we are really making all of this stuff happen. In fact, I'm going to come out here and make a bold (and not approved by my employer) statement:

2008 will be the year that client Java starts taking market share from Flash.

There, I said it. By JavaOne we will have completely re-energized client Java. And I mean client Java, not just desktop Java. Everything will be faster, prettier, easier to use, and easier to deploy. We will be better in the browser. We will be better on the desktop. We will be better on the phones. Existing technologies are being updated and new technologies will see their debut at JavaOne, if not earlier.

Wow. Strong words, and I don't think Josh would risk putting them out there if he didn't have something to back them up (even if he can't tell us what that is yet).

To be fair, though, client-side Java is facing two prominent rivals -- Flash and Ajax -- and they're not exactly standing still. Flash is the obvious rival now, as the Java community is generally on very good terms with Ajax (maybe because most of our community is on the server side and is thus somewhat client-agnostic). But Ajax is still a significant threat to client-side Java: I noticed that the Mac blog Daring Fireball recently cited an opinion piece from Roughly Drafted called The iPhone Threat to Adobe, Microsoft, Sun, Real, BREW, Symbian, which claims that the iPhone's adoption of a full-blown browser and its ability to handle JavaScript-heavy Ajax web apps is a strategic weapon to keep Flash Mobile from gaining ground. As a bit of collateral damage, since the iPhone doesn't support Java ME, its popularity could also hurt the "run everywhere" side of Java's WORA promise. Moreover, the article argues that if iPhone starts a trend of putting a full-blown, JavaScript-ready, Ajax-supporting browser on all phones, then Java ME will lose ground in the mobile space. The Manageability blog also wonders about this scenario, backtracking on an early prediction that ME would solidify its position as the standard as a result of Google Maps legitimizing ME.

Of course, there's a lot of this "there can only be one" rhetoric flying around. Some sensible types reject this so-called "Highlander Theory" because it's rare for one size to truly fit all. While Ajax support on the phone would keep providers from having to develop mobile-only clients with technology like ME, it's a platform that's totally unsuitable for a lot of popular applications. Check out the ME game collection on your phone: do you really want someone to try to write "Bejeweled" -- or "Galaga", for Jove's sake -- as a JavaScript web app? And notice that Apple didn't use Ajax for its Mail, Maps, and other productivity apps on the iPhone? They recognize the value of a full-blown client GUI platform too.

So user-facing Java, on the desktop and the device, is finally poised to start doing some really great things? Well, that's good news, because the competition is not standing still, and Java will have to prove its value in 2008 against the capabilities of Flash and Ajax with another year of development and evolution under their belts too.

In other news, today kicks off the O'Reilly Open Source convention, and Arun Gupta has a look at jMaki and GlassFish @ OSCON in today's Weblogs. "Sun Microsystems is a platinum sponsor of OSCON 2007 (Jul 23-27, Portland, OR). There are tutorials, sessions, bofs, expo hall and other events. Sun's continued commitment to Open Source is reflected in its leadership and key contributions to the many projects including OpenSolaris,, GNOME, Grid Engine,, Jini, JXTA, GlassFish, NetBeans, and Mozilla."