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Parading Out of the Open Source Door

Posted by hansmuller on June 28, 2004 at 9:30 PM PDT

June has been a record breaker for new open source projects
at Sun. The projects ambling out the door this month have
run the gamut from new initiatives like
JDIC,
JDNC,
to longtime J2SE stalwart
Java3D.
And standing in the doorway is the great hulking giant
Solaris, of which our president Jonathan Schwartz has said: "Make no
mistake: we will open source Solaris". At today's opening JavaOne
keynote Jonathan also let it be known that Project Looking Glass was
similarly poised to pass through the open source doorway, just as soon as
some final (unspecified) details were ironed out.

So now perhaps you're wondering what all of this implies about
Java itself passing through the same door. Of that I can tell you
with absolute certainty: I have absolutely no idea. My goal is just
to remind those of you who of depend exclusively on blogs for news, a
little about the significance of the Looking Glass and Java 3D
projects.

One way to explain Project Looking Glass is to take stock of the
obvious. For some time now nearly all new PCs have included general
purpose CPUs that can execute billions of instructions per second.
Right next to the fire breathing CPU there's usually
a separate graphics processor that can render 3D scenes of
enormous complexity at frame rates well in excess of what you'll find
at the local cinema. With all this power at our disposal, why are we
viewing a desktop GUI that requires little more than an efficient
implementation of an early 1980s BITBLT graphics library? Of the many
possible answers to this question, the one that Looking Glass is
intended to explore is this: we still don't know how to take all of
that potential and turn it into a desktop that makes using a computer
easier. It's time to start experimenting with the possibilities and
Project Looking Glass is a software laboratory for doing just that.

Project Looking Glass is based on an extension to the X11 server
that combines the contents of top level windows from conventional X11
clients and new Java 3D client application scene graphs into a unified
scene graph that's composited and displayed on the screen. There's a
new X11 window manager that demonstrates how one interact with a
desktop metaphor that's more than just a stack of sheets of (opaque) paper.
There are also some demo applications that give you an inkling of what
it's like to deploy an application whose visual elements occupy 3-space.
To begin your own exploration, watch for the project's open
source announcement on
javadesktop.org.

The other big open source announcement that I wanted to mention was
Java 3D. Java 3D has seen much use in serious endeavors like
engineering and medical science, and it's been used in loads of games
and virtual reality applications. However the big question many
developers gravitate towards, as they while away the moments waiting
for their tiny espressos to brew, is this: would it be possible to use
Java 3D to build a first-person-shooter view of the operating system
and would we be allowed to remove files or kill processes by blasting
at them with impossibly large weapons? Not surprisingly, the answer
to that question is yes. As to the natural follow up question: will the
processes and files fight back? We're still looking into that.
One example of such an application, which I haven't tried, is the
"Brutal File Manager". If
you're aware of others, I'd like to hear about them.

You'll find the new Java 3D API open source project here:
java3d.dev.java.net.
It's a big software stack. The developers describe it like this:

The Java 3D API provides a set of object-oriented interfaces
that support a simple, high-level programming model you can
use to build, render, and control the behavior of 3D objects
and visual environments. With the Java 3D API, you can
incorporate high-quality, scalable, platform-independent 3D
graphics into applications and applets based on Java
technology.

Java 3D is an integral part of the Looking Glass Project. If
you're planning to explore desktop 3D in depth (IOK, not all that
clever, but hey - this is a blog) check it out now.

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