Java goes back to the PC

James Gosling, who helped create Sun Microsystems' Java software, is working to bring it back to its desktop computing roots. Making things easy with JavaFX Sun looks to jolt interest in Java

SAN FRANCISCO--Java has come full circle, and James Gosling has watched the 12-year journey.

In 1995, Sun Microsystems introduced Java as a way to endow Web surfing with fancy graphics and more sophisticated interaction than just basic pointing and clicking. By introducing JavaFX Script this week at the JavaOne conference here, Sun is trying to reinvigorate that original idea.

Gosling helped invent the Java programming language, initially called Oak, in the early 1990s. He was involved in its early spread as a Web browser plug-in and its commercial success in server software and mobile phones.

But when it comes to "client" devices such as desktop computers, Adobe Systems' Flash took over where Java started. Sun is trying again, and Gosling, chief technologist for Sun's client software group, talked about the plans with CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland.

Q: Could you give a quick description of JavaFX Script?
Gosling: JavaFX describes a series of client initiatives we're doing. There are two that are pretty real right now. One is a scripting language called JavaFX Script. It's a scripting language designed for creating dynamic user experiences, for creating graphical user interfaces (GUIs) with really rich interaction and dynamic behavior and lots of artwork.

You can do that with today's Java, but what--it's too difficult?
Gosling: It can take a long time. Also there's this strange thing in the computer GUI business--traditionally there's been this notion that you want to have consistency. Companies like Apple and Sun have published user interface guidelines that say buttons should look this and sliders should look like that. But what people are wanting these days is something where the look is totally under their control--it's totally re-skinnable. The app (application) you see is really the face of whoever has built it for you. If it's a bank or a media company, the app you interact with is the face of the company.

Video:
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland catches up with Java co-creator James Gosling and talks to him about the latest version.

It seems to me this is returning to the roots of Java, an interactive Web experience. Is that an accurate statement?
Gosling: It's very much an accurate statement. The applet (small downloadable Java programs) technologies and 2D graphics and Swing (Java graphical interface technology) are all about doing that. Applets are a technology that people have tended not to use for no particularly good reason. There is the legal history with things being a little bit uglier than they should have been...

Microsoft vs. Sun and the antitrust (lawsuit)?
Gosling: That was really ugly. It really killed the whole applet thing for a bunch of years, but one of the not quite well-understood facts is that applets still work really well.

So why are you guys doing this now? It seems a lot of this action is happening now with Adobe's Flash and perhaps Microsoft's Silverlight .
Gosling: This is certainly in that space. The Java platform has got a huge installed base, and the depth of what you can do in the Java platform is really huge. If you compare what you can do with Java coded in an applet, it's far more than what you can do with things like Flash. But the issue for us really has been that while the capability was there, it's been difficult to do. So we've been on this mad tear to make the easy stuff easy. We've gotten pretty good at making the hard stuff possible, and over the last couple years we've focused pretty heavily on the enterprise world and making (it easy to build) these giant enterprise apps.

For somebody's stock-trading application or something like that?
Gosling: Yeah. And it's gotten pretty respectable. Now we're trying to do the same thing for client application development.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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