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No One's Leaving

Posted by editor on October 24, 2007 at 8:07 AM PDT

The curious comebacks of applets and the NetBeans Mobile

Yesterday, we featured an interview from in which Ben Galbraith interviews Ken Russell on the newly rewritten Java Plug-In. And right out of the gate, Ben establishes a tone of skepticism.

                    BEN GALBRAITH
           OK, I'm here with Ken Russell, of
           Sun Microsystems.  We're at the client
           update media briefing that Sun put
           on today at the W hotel in San Francisco.
           And Ken's here to talk about the updates
           that Sun has made to the Java Plug-In...
           the Java Plug-In applet architecture
           thing, that runs in browsers.  It's
           pretty exciting stuff, basically a
           whole rewrite of how applets work in
           the browser, and I wanted to talk
           to you Ken about that, because Java
           applets have sucked for the past ten
           years, and we're really excited about
           the prospect of that changing.
                    KEN RUSSELL
           Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that
           they sucked, Ben...

And, insulting one's guest notwithstanding, there is a genuine skepticism about applets that has built up over the years. I can recall magazine after magazine telling readers to turn off Java in their browsers, for reasons of stability and performance. But with the new plug-in running in a separate process, the days of a Java VM crash taking out the browser will soon be at an end. With improvements to applet startup time, and applet startup no longer blocking the browser, users should see both real and perceived performance benefits.

Can applets stage a renaissance at this date? While pundits were happy to tell you a few years back that embedding a rich runtime inside the browser was foolish and undesirable, the YouTube-spawned explosion of interest in Flash has trashed that conventional wisdom. And what's the difference, at least in theory, between a Flash presentation and a Java applet? Each runs in a VM, each reserves its own display space in the page, each is cross-platform and has a set of standard runtime libraries. Thusfar, the Java Plug-In's problems have been a drag on applet adoption. With those issues resolved, will applets really challenge Flash? Hard to predict, but Flash is such a performance dog on the Mac, and its release history on Linux has been hit or miss, so there are genuine opportunities for applets to emerge as the better choice for developers and users.

And if it's weird to think about possibly writing implements java.applet.Applet again, Calvin Austin helps trace the history of how things got this way in today's Weblogs. In
Applets re-birth, what happened?, he tracks the story of applets through the earlier versions of Java:

Applets were dependent on Motif for Unix, something that didn't change until JDK 5 and Sun didn't have a lot of development history with Windows either. The apis was functional but new, there were many early issues with modal dialogs and later motif related drag and drop issues in 1.2

The big push was for Java 1.0 and of course the adoption by netscape, however deployment of 1.1 applets was immediately affected by the pace of netscape development and the infamous reverse dns lookup feature. For applet developers it meant that many complex early applets would 'break' because they were too new or fell foul of corporate firewalls.

And here's another unexpected flashback for you,
The Return of the NetBeansMobile. Tim