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The Sun Outshines the Rest in the Field of Technology


February 15, 2005

Ahhh....love is in the air. What could be more befitting of a Valentine's day filled with steamy e-cards, torrid instant messaging sessions, and last minute Amazon.com deliveries than an announcement confessing our obsessions for the best loved technology of the year? This year's field of candidates is particularly appealing, as they represent some of the hottest developments in what many consider to be the most exciting year in tech since the dotcom boom. In this article, I'll discuss the delectable traits of each candidate, keeping you in suspense until the end where I'll introduce the winner and offer some thoughts regarding why it ultimately won the heart of Developer.com readers everywhere.

The Runners-Up

Blogs

Librarians do it. Foodies do it. Product manager Mark Jen says Google fired him for doing it. Of course computer guys do it (and we do it better, but only because we've been doing it the longest). No, I'm not talking about the the Macarena. I'm talking about blogging, the form of online publishing where everyone's their own DIY media empire.

It would be easy to say that 2004 was significant for blogging because it marked the year in which the publishing model was proven to be more than a fad, however this stage has long since passed. For starters, the mainstream press seems to have completed the transition from denigration to emulation, with the term "blogosphere" presently referenced almost as often as "disenfranchised" or "quagmire" have been in the recent past. Although there's still a reporter or two out there who simply still don't get it, it's fair to say that the pros have started to acknowledge the benefit of giving the unwashed masses a platform to air their own views. Regardless, beware to those who think the impact is minimal. Just ask Dan Rather.

And if media buy-in isn't enough to sell you on blogs, consider how many politicos threw their hats into the blogging arena in 2004. Taking a page from The Dean presidential campaign, both Bush and Kerry tapped into blogs throughout their 2004 campaigns. More recently, U.S. Senator Jim Talent blogged daily during his weeklong visit to the Middle East, relaying quite a bit of interesting insight and other details regarding his travels. Apparently the approach is catching on (even Al Gore's reportedly now convinced he invented the blog), as likely 2008 hopefuls such as Newt Gingrich are already taking advantage of the medium.

2004 also saw the continued success of blog-based media companies such as Gawker Media and Weblogs, Inc., with both growing considerably in terms of managed blog properties. Popular blog-focused software companies such as Movable Type and Blogger.com both rolled out new versions of their products. And in what is perhaps the most fascinating development of 2004 regarding this topic, audio-based blogs started to really gather steam, with bloggers recording their thoughts in a format quite reminiscent of a typical talk radio show. Two particularly compelling examples of audio blogs include former MTV VJ-turned-tech entrepreneur Adam Curry and G'day World.

Given the tremendous buzz generated by blogging throughout 2004, it's not difficult to understand why it made this year's list. If you haven't started blogging, what are you waiting for? A number of free services and open source offerings are available to help you get started. A few of the more popular are listed here:

Eclipse

Remember the bad old days of software development? Those bygone times when you used one tool for Web design, another for database schema management, and still another for coding? Wait a second, what do you mean you're still developing like this? Drop everything and check out Eclipse, the hottest development environment out there today.

The project was spearheaded by IBM back in 2001 when it announced the donation of an estimated $40 million in source code to a newly-formed organization dubbed the Eclipse project. Consisting of over 150 prominent open source companies, the project goal was, as it remains today, to build a single platform capable of integrating otherwise disparate development tools coming from a wide number of suppliers.

Although most tend to think of Eclipse as an IDE ideal for building applications using their preferred programming language, it's actually much more than that. More accurately, Eclipse is a universal platform which serves as a basis for building IDEs—or anything else you desire; debuggers, games, data modelers, you name it. This base platform is extended by creating plugins written in Java, allowing developers to take advantage of the rich array of features offered by this mature language. This development strategy has proved an unabashed success, with thousands of plugins being made available for download by developers all over the world. Consider this list of just a few interesting and eclectic plugins:

You can learn more about the latest plug-in offerings and Eclipse news by browsing the numerous community websites. A few of the more popular sites include Eclipse Plugin Central, Eclipse Plugins, and of course the official Eclipse website. Also take a look at Sourceforge and search Google for other contributions.

Service-Oriented Architecture

As society's dependence and demands upon software has increased, so have the challenges faced by IT developers. To accomodate these challenges, we've devised increasingly sophisticated methods for writing scaleable, flexible, and maintainable applications. One striking example of this evolutionary march forward came with the rise of networked and Web-based environments. For instance, in order to better manage the multi-dimensional problem space posed by Web-based applications consisting of an application server, database, and web browser, we strive to cleanly separate, or decouple, each component.

The advantages are doing so are severalfold, but perhaps most notably it lessens the pain involved in maintaining and upgrading our application because each component is essentially interdependent of the others. Therefore given a properly decoupled application, it should be possible to replace one database server for another (say Oracle for MySQL) without requiring reworking of the other components. Furthermore, such an approach promotes component reusability, because it should be equally feasible to produce a new desktop interface that interacts with the application and database server with no modification to these existing components.

In light of the rapidly transforming Web environment, we've recently begun working on yet another approach to networked application development based on this concept of decoupling. The approach is due to the promises of Web services, the name generally assigned to an application made accessible over the Internet by way of a standardized XML-based messaging system. Because in the interests of reusability, not to mention reliability, it stands to reason that we would want to be able to reuse Web services within multiple applications, or potentially call an alternative should our primary service go offline. This strategy is known as building a service-oriented architecture (SOA). Although we're still fairly early on in the development curve of this new paradigm, the riches it could impart in terms of application stability, efficiency and scaleability may prove inestimable, making it a logical finalist in this category.

  And the Winner is... J2SE!

Despite a very strong candidate pool, the coronation of J2SE (Java 2 Standard Edition) as the Developer.com Technology of the Year wasn't entirely unforeseen. After all, the Java community seems to be in the midst of a renaissance of sorts these days. For starters, J2SE 5.0, arguably the most significant release to date was made available this past September. Offering over 100 significant new features including most notably enumerated types, generics, metadata, and primitive type auto-boxing support, developers are more empowered than ever to build powerful applications. A complete list of the language updates can be found on Sun's website, and further details about the update was reported on Developer.com immediately following the release.

However, one cannot help but take note of the perception that interest in the language is being revitalized due to the thriving Open Source Java community. The tireless efforts of contributors worldwide intent on producing quality Java application development and testing tools have resulted in open source development platforms such as Eclipse and the NetBeans IDE become tools of choice for countless Java developers. In addition, a slew of open source Java projects such as Ant, Hibernate, and the horde of efforts managed by the Apache Jakarta project have made Java a more compelling choice than ever before. And as if the buzz regarding such projects wasn't enough, on the heels of the decision to open source the Solaris operating system, it's recently been reported that Sun has its sights set on open sourcing the Java language. Despite an already open development process overseen by the Java Community Process, one can't help but wonder where the language could go should such an event occur.

Congratulations to all involved in making Java such an amazing language. It's naming as the 2005 Developer.com Technology of the Year is well deserved!

About the Author

W. Jason Gilmore (http://www.wjgilmore.com/) is the Open Source Editor for Apress (http://www.apress.com/). He's the author of Beginning PHP 5 and MySQL: Novice to Professional (Apress, 2004. 748pp.). His work has been featured within many of the computing industry's leading publications, including Linux Magazine, O'Reillynet, Devshed, Zend.com, and Webreview.

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