Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Now that the 1.0 release has been superseded by the 1.1 release, I decided it was time to look at JavaFX and see if there was anything there.

The first thing that hits you when looking at the samples is how smooth everything is on screen. That's good because Sun really needs to impress with these samples if it has any hope of getting developers to use them.

The second thing that hits you is the claim about there is no JavaFX mobile, there is only JavaFX. Code you write in JavaFX will work over "all the screens of your life". It's certainly possible to write a JavaFX application that would work over a phone, BD player, TV, browser and your desktop. Unfortunately, you wouldn't want too, the effort required to get that going wouldn't be worth it. The problem doesn't arise when you look at what's there but what isn't. Most basic controls like a text box or a list are imported from Swing verbatim or are simply missing. In other words, you have to use Java/Swing to add the missing functionality in your own application.

Now, if you're planning on deploying to all of the above platforms. All these Java stacks have swing with the exception of Java ME/CLDC. The CLDC environment happens to be the one that sits on those 2 billion phones that Sun keeps talking about and that's an issue. It's possible but highly unlikely that your application will not require any user interaction beyond flashy effects. The real problem with the CLDC however, is that it doesn't have AWT either. So beyond writing a complete replacement for these controls in CLDC, which is what the LWUIT project is doing, there isn't much you can do here. Is it possible that Sun will finally start to push Java ME/CDC for smart phones? I don't know, time will tell. However, the BlackBerry is still the most popular business oriented smart phone out there and it's based on CDLC. I say "based", because that virtual machine has some serious issues that I feel invalidates it as a Java virtual machine in the first place. Meaning getting JavaFX to run on a BlackBerry is still a big question mark.

The other big news is that Sun has reported they now have done 100 million installs of JavaFX on the desktop. I was really impressed by this at first because I thought this was people going to, downloading the bits and installing them. What else could it be right? There wasn't a new Java 6 update so they couldn't have been piggy backing on the regular Java runtime from Sun to deploy JavaFX right? Wrong. Java 6 update 12 is still the latest release, but if you go to right now and inspect the current installer, you can see that the installer binary has been modified to include JavaFX. 100 million desktop installs is still very impressive, Silverlight just recently passed this milestone and it has been out for far longer. However, let's face it, JavaFX is getting deployed because of Java Update, not because end users are excited about it and getting the bits themselves.

JavaFX on the desktop is still interesting. Thanks to the massive work that was done in Java 6 update 10, it can leverage the completely overhauled applets and web start systems in that release. Which means you can deploy your FX code as applets or web start applications or a combination of both. For example, most of the samples on run in the browser, however installing on the desktop just requires the user to press "Alt" and drag the applet outside the browser to have the application live on your desktop. What's also good about this process is that the install is per user, so there are no UAC escalation prompts so anyone can install these applications that they be an administrator or not.

More good stuff:
  • Sun decided that it wasn't going to re-invent a completely new set of tools for content designers. Instead, it wrote plugins for Adobe's creative suite.
  • Media codecs. Finally, video comes to the Java platform. JMF (Java Media Framework) is dead and buried, it was last updated in 2003. JavaFX features On2 codecs and plugs into DirectShow on Windows and QuickTime on OSX.
  • JavaFX isn't a virtual machine, it runs on top of an existing JVM. That's good news indeed because in conjunction with Java Web Start, if your application is started by someone that still doesn't have JavaFX, just Java, the application will still load just fine. The JavaFX jar is just another jar which means web start will just grab it just like any other jar that is part of your application. Furthermore, if your users don't have Java, you can still use Sun's JavaScript script for Java deployment to get it to end users.
  • Updatable runtime even for phones. This is a departure from how Sun has been doing business on phones. Having the runtime updatable over the air is a really a good thing. Even if you bought a first generation iPhone, you haven't been left out in the cold, your system has been upgradable to every release that has been put out there. Sure, it's not over the air, you need a computer to install it but this is still a good thing.
Now some bad stuff:
  • Applets still take too long to start. Java 6 update 10 really helps but it still isn't good enough. It needs to be instantaneous if Sun has any hopes of replacing Flash with this technology. When you get to a web page, your banner ads have to be showing immediately, they can't be showing the Java spinning logo.
  • The Java system tray icon and bubble advertisement. Are you kidding me here? Really, really annoying.
  • No Android support outside the traditional model. That means Android handset developers need to license it from Sun and it doesn't come over the air. It follows the traditional model of what ships with the phone, dies with the phone. Of course, Android unfortunately hasn't exactly caught on fire, might be a non-issue here.
  • Not all JavaFX versions have been released. Namely Linux.
  • No visual editor. I've said many times over now that NetBeans' excellent matisse editor needs to move to the next level, beyond just Swing/AWT support. Please note that visual editors are available from 3rd parties.
All in all, I hope Sun keeps working really hard on this. The 1.1 release came mere months after the 1.0 release and I think it needs to keep doing that. Release very often so that it can patch holes and missing functionality bit by bit, forget the huge releases here, if it does that, it will be in a position where JavaFX 1.1 is competing against Silverlight 3. JavaFX's scope, i.e., the total number of classes, already doesn't compare favorably to Flex or Silverlight, let it gain ground bit by bit instead of waiting till the platform is abandoned before making another release.

Next up, Silverlight...

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