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JavaOne 2000: Developer Diary

  • June 7, 2000
  • By David Fox
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"Every single hour, here in the bay area, venture capitalists are giving 17 million dollars to new businesses," Gage claims. "So what are you all doing here?"

I'm already drunk, and the conference hasn't even started yet. Let me explain.

As I look out the airplane window into the layered, black void of the Rockies, my mind recalls the shame and glory, the hype and the foresight that was JavaOne 1999. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Four days of bad food, teeming crowds, yellow beanbags, and endless tables of beer. By all accounts, this year's conference is going to be even rougher. More people — 25,000, in fact, from 5,000 companies and about 100 countries — and more sessions — from the morning keynote at 8:30 to afternoon technical talks to midnight, more informal Birds of a Feather (BOF) sessions. There is no set lunch break, no breaks at all. Just 15 minutes after each session to find your way to the next one.

I planned ahead. I went to the JavaOne 2000 Web site and used their nifty JSP application to select all my sessions. I collated the schedule, ranked things by importance, and imported it all into my trusty Palm. All in all, I've slated about 50 must-see talks to sit through, learn from, and be bettered by. Unfortunately, all sessions will occur during the exact same two hours — two o'clock Wednesday afternoon. So I'm a little anxious about it all.

"Magic" Johnson dribbles out and speaks, as a "small business owner" about how useful American Express's Blue Java card is going to be. "

I planned ahead. I went to the JavaOne 2000 Web site and used their nifty JSP application to select all my sessions. I collated the schedule, ranked things by importance, and imported it all into my trusty Palm. All in all, I've slated about 50 must-see talks to sit through, learn from, and be bettered by. Unfortunately, all sessions will occur during the exact same two hours — two o'clock Wednesday afternoon. So I'm a little anxious about it all.

Also, I'm speaking this year. Not just the usual BOF about game development, but a full-fledged lecture. I'm not quite sure how I managed it. I was up too late one night at the office and, on a lark, typed a random sequence of words and e-mailed them to Sun. One of those words was KVM — the kilobyte virtual machine, core of the Java 2 Micro Edition. If anything about Java can be considered sexy, programming on wireless devices is it.

Ever since I found out I was selected, I've spent every night until midnight developing a KVM game and brushing up on the ins and outs of the Connected Limited Device Configuration (CLDC). I'm at the point where I can probably fake my way through a speech pretty well. But I'd rather not think about that, yet. To top it off, my company is supposed to have released our product last week. Now we're late. And most of us are going out to JavaOne, leaving the suits back in New York clamoring for the goods. We've promised everyone it would all be working perfectly by the time we came back.

Yeah, right.

Another Jack and Coke, please, stewardess.

Tuesday Keynote

Our hotel is better this year — a joint close to Union Square. There's still a hearty mix of prostitutes and junkies outside, but they seem a whole lot more gregarious. Besides, what're a few streetwalkers and hoodlums compared to what I'm about to face on the JavaOne expo floor?

The wake-up call hits hard. I feel every hour of jetlag weighing me down. But I rise, slap my face a bit, and look into the mirror. I vow to face this year's JavaOne with optimism, open-mindedness, and excitement. Amen.

But I'm a little delayed and miss the first few notes of the keynote. I funnel into the "spillover" room, where about 5,000 other latecomers witness the event kick off on a pair of huge, dangling video screens.

A video is playing, shot in the herky-jerky style of Law and Order. The plot involves a client who needs a piece of essential code, and needs it fast. The video ends with the developer making the deadline, just in time, and calling up his boss. "So am I rich yet?"

Her answer, "You're getting there!"

With that, John Gage — Sun's Chief Science Officer — jogs onto the stage. Donning his signature khaki pants and black polo, Gage is the quintessential Java cheerleader. He's curious about everything, smart, and well-spoken. He has that perfect keynote mix of televangelist and capitalist, with just a dash of technologist.

"Eventually, Joy predicts, each of us may carry 3 million digital devices in the fibers of our clothes or the cells of our body. "

Gage tries to get people who've been to past conferences to stand. We folks in the spillover room are only facing, a video screen and it would be a bit ludicrous to actually participate. A few guys in back of me actually rise.

"Wake up!" Gage commands. "You can't sleep! You represent all those that couldn't come." He rubs his hands and tries to get everyone's blood pumping. "Every single hour, here in the bay area, venture capitalists are giving 17 million dollars to new businesses," he claims. "So what are you all doing here?"

Then Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO, jogs up onto the stage. And what music heralds the approach of this software king? Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," of course. It's only the first of many, many anti-Microsoft jokes. All the talk about Microsoft's woes and the Love Bug reeks of desperation, of a bitter underdog trying to get in its kicks. But it's a sure crowd-pleaser.

McNealy begins with a top-ten list about Microsoft Outlook. Stuff like: "I love you, you love me, look what happens with VB." The guy in back of me laughs like a hyena. He's the only one. It's okay. We ain't here for the comedy.

Then McNealy hits us with some groovy stats: There are 2.5 million Java developers today, with 4 million likely in 2003 (according to IDC). And every single one of us is going to be rich beyond their wireless dreams.

Soon enough he goes back to harping on Microsoft. "Java's most important feature is safety," he says. If Microsoft would have messed up something else, I'm guessing that would have been Java's most important feature. But he has a point. "If I wrote software," he assures us. "I'd write it in Java."

With that, it's time for a few Java demos. Paul Loos, a Sun technology manager, gives us a little tour of the many Java-enabled devices, ranging from videocameras to cell phones to the Sega Dreamcast. Apparently there are over one hundred handheld devices running the KVM. Cool!

The coup-de-grace is a Java-enabled golf putter, with a head the size of a toaster. McNealy's putt is picture perfect. The software recognizes it and sends the play across the Net to other "hard working" executives. Then McNealy unfurls a driver. He slices the next shot far into the audience. Unfortunately, it's only a ping-pong ball, so there's nothing too interesting or lawsuit-worthy.

Then Steve Jobs is introduced. His hair is a bit thinner, and he wears the tight, confident smile of a rock star, but otherwise it's the hero we all know and love. Unfortunately, he doesn't say anything the least bit thought-worthy. He and McNealy slap each other on the backs and Job talks about how Java 2 is going to be included with Mac's new OS X, along with a Swing toolkit to continue the Mac's "Aqua" look. Jobs pledges to make the Macintosh the "best Java delivery vehicle on the planet."

All the fun is capped off with the onset of Pat Sueltz, president of software products and platforms — in other words, the top dog in charge of Sun's whole Java initiative. She literally launches herself onto the stage, hooting and screaming, "Hot dog!" Everyone looks at her as if she's insane. "Clap if you're interested in personal wealth," she shouts.

Not a soul responds. Anti-Microsoft jokes are one thing. But Java developers, by and large, are not salespeople or businesspeople. Not yet. They are motivated by new problems, new solutions, and new inventions — or least like to pose as if they are. Money is just a nice way to keep score.

Then Sueltz brings up a few "guest stars." Bill Coleman, CEO of something or other, gives a heard-it-all-before pep talk. Since today is the anniversary of D-Day, he claims JavaOne is akin to storming the beach at Normandy, leading to a victory for the powers of right and freedom.

Then Coleman has to say, "You can make a lot of money!"

"Say that again," Sueltz grins.

"You can make a lot of money."

Once again, nobody claps. The two speakers look out into the crowd, a bit flabbergasted. "This is about money, isn't it?" Sueltz asks.

"Yes, it is." Coleman shrugs.

It's embarrassing. But it's only the beginning. For then a little magic is added to the gathering. The magic of irrelevant celebrity endorsements, that is. Earvin "Magic" Johnson dribbles out and speaks, as a "small business owner" about how useful American Express's Blue Java-enabled smart card is going to be. It's so useful, in fact, he urges us all to enter a contest and come up with a use. The winner gets 50,000 big ones. Then he hurls signed basketballs into the crowd. There's nothing like seeing dozens of developers dog-pile on top of an orange ball, nearly scratching each other's eyes out. It's fun. And lawsuit worthy!

The last slide of the keynote is, of course: "Java = Fortune."

Man, some people just don't get it.

Or maybe it's me.

Technical Sessions

My plan is to go to as many widely varied sessions as possible. I want to hit sessions about the KVM, of course, so I'll have some ideas to add to my own talk. But I also want to cover real ground, learning more about the Java Media Framework and Java 2D and 3D, Enterprise Java Beans, Jini, Jiro, XML, Servlets, and Java Server Pages. Unfortunately, very little of the material is new to me. Many speakers, especially those from Sun, just rehash the latest APIs and specifications. Interesting stuff, to be sure — but nothing you can't get from downloading an Acrobat file from the Sun Java site.

I've been so immersed in Java games for the past four years that I've had to mess with pretty much everything relevant to graphics, Web pages, or applets. Enterprisewide stuff such as EJB isn't really applicable to my daily life. Though the topics are theoretically interesting, by the time the speaker gets to the code samples, I'm dreaming of anything but Jini.

"The gist of the roundtable is that XML and Java can work hand in hand XML as the noun describing all the data and Java as the verb, doing stuff with it all. "

The most populated sessions are probably those with the best chance of sexy demos. Sessions about wireless, graphics, Lego Mindstorm, and JavaTV all are packed. Though no demo I saw was really spectacular, any demo beats out the same, static sequence of PowerPoint slides. Many of the talks use games as demonstrations, and talk about how games and entertainment will become the preeminent form of content for the Web, TV, and cellular phones. It's good news for me — being in the game business. But it's odd that there aren't more game-related sessions.

Some of the best talks aren't really about Java, but more about specific programming topics. I really enjoy a discussion on threading. Threads are academic, heady stuff. Nothing turns one's mind into spaghetti more easily than trying to imagine a dozen threads interrelating. I also picked up some neat knowledge about the various wireless standards, interactive TV initiatives, and new techniques of software development such as extreme programming — which is what I'd often practiced but never had a methodology for.

The Motorola Contest

By the time the evening rolled around, I was so fatigued I didn't even want any of the complementary Anchor Jack beer. I opted to skip the night BOF sessions and head over to the Palace Hotel to attend Motorola's Programming competition. The idea? You have six hours to write a KVM application for the upcoming iDen cell phone. The thought of a little coding feels liberating to me. And they offer free massages!

I figure I'll hang out at the Motorola suite for two hours and play around. Indeed, the iDen's implementation of the KVM is exceptionally easy to program, especially using the Code Warrior setup they provide. In two hours, I have pretty much what I want — an application called Bomb Defuser. The idea is this: Say there's a member of the opposite sex you're afraid to call, or say you're a criminal with a conscience thinking of turning yourself in. Type in the phone number of the girl, or the police, or whatever. A game begins. You see a flashing bomb and have 60 seconds to hit the keypad fast enough and hack the bomb's four-digit code. If you succeed, the game is over and you are saved. If you fail, however, the call is made and you must face your greatest fear.

It all worked really well until it didn't. Everything looked completely different on the actual phone than it did on the emulator. By now I'd invested too long with the program. A few more hours of revisions, hacks, and cheats, and finally I was ready to call it a night, turn in my Spotlet, and get my massage. Naturally, the masseuse was long gone.

Oh, it's so much fun bleeding yourself dry at the cutting edge.

So, at 1 a.m., my body still on New York time, I stroll the lonely, rain-slicked San Francisco hills. I get lost. All the blocks around Union Square seem the same at night. with the same sequence of art galleries, hotels, hobos, and diners. Finally, maybe an hour later, I stumble onto the right block and dive into bed.

Wednesday Keynote

An all-women, all-percussion ensemble, D'Cuckoo, is up on stage rocking the house this morning. The lead singer shakes her thang at the thousands in the audience. John Gage comes out trying to mimic one of the moves, throwing his hands back like African pinwheels. He tries to christen the move, "The Java."

Bill Joy, Sun's chief scientist, is the speaker du jour. He delivers what one might actually call an interesting talk. He speaks a bit disjointedly about Moore's law, and how every 18 months computing power becomes twice as fast and cheap. If you look ahead, there will be a point where the cost of fabricating hardware will be more expensive than microchips themselves. This economic fact will cause Moore's law to slow down and grind to a halt. But molecular nanoeloctronics — molecules that act like semiconductors and storage devices — will keep the curve going. Eventually, Joy predicts, each of us may carry 3 million digital devices in the fibers of our clothes or the cells of our body. A plane may be painted with black box recorders — this will allow investigators to piece together what happened using any single piece of wreckage.

Joy then describes six webs: The "here web" such as cell phones and PDAs, the "near web" of the desktop PC, the "far web" on TV, and the "weird web" of speech-devices and automobile heads-up displays. To top off the list are the "e-commerce web" of automatic business and consumer transactions and the "pervasive web" of embedded sensors in toasters and refrigerators. All these webs will need a very robust and extensible language so that they can all talk. The unspoken implication, of course, is that Java is that language. And more and more, it looks as if Java may just be what all webs need. Twenty-five thousand developers can't be wrong. Can they?

Then occurs a happening so tragic, so horrific, I can hardly write about here without collapsing in sobs. But, in hopes of disclosing all, I shall recount it:

A comedy troupe performs a sketch reliving the first JavaOne conference, back in 1996. The group consists of three gung-ho Java programmers and one nasty naysayer, with lines like, "Java won't last. It ain't no Netscape." Half the jokes have to do with the price of real estate in Palo Alto.

Then the four are zapped forward in time, to the present day. One of the developers is now completely bald and grudgingly admits that he's in marketing, "What do you do all day?" the others ask, unbelieving. "I think really ... big thoughts," he responds. The second developer is in a suit now. She created four companies, sold them all, and lost her millions in Boo.com. The third developer looks the exact same, works for the same company, and is making the same salary. The naysayer is back too. He is now, of course, a Microsoft proponent. He takes out his PocketPC device and checks his e-mail. The device begins an endless loop of, "I love you!"s and explodes. "James Gosling" bounds out and sprays the PocketPC with roach spray.

The real James Gosling is a big, gentle bear of a guy with a long mane of hair, a bald pate, and generous beard. The actor who portrays him looks like George Costanza in an Amish costume.

Then we are warped to the future, the year 2005. You can tell it's the future because the developers are wearing shiny silver shoulder-pads. Everyone is rich, happy, and free. Java has won the day. To celebrate the good times, the James Gosling character dances the mambo and sings "Java Number Five":

"A little bit of Java in my life/A little bit of Java by my side/A little bit of Java all I need/A little bit of Java all I see."

You get the picture.

Actually, the skit was so bad it was almost fascinating, anthropologically speaking.

Finally, the real James Gosling comes out — red-faced, shaking his head, refusing to dance despite John Gage's prodding. Gosling tries to restore some dignity by talking about his research in real-time Java. Unlike games, stock trading applications, and e-commerce sites, in real-time applications "if there's a bug, somebody dies." Gosling "wrote" the Real Time Java Specification book by parsing JavaDoc. His editors at Addison-Wesly must have been so pleased.

To demo the software, two robots with separate processors play chopsticks on the same piano. No Beethoven, but definitely impressive.

Every year, Gosling designs a JavaOne T-shirt. This year's shirt features the inimitable Duke riding a motorcycle. Two volunteers hold each end of a sling, and Gosling shoots the shirts far into the crowd. The talk was so-so, but the sling-shotting is pretty darn impressive.

This is followed by a sort of roundtable discussion between John Bosak (from Sun's XML tech center), Greg Papadopoulos (Sun's CTO), and Gosling, Gage moderating. It's staged to be a fascinating debate about form and function, but comes out pretty stale and canned. The gist is that XML and Java can work hand in hand — XML as the noun describing all the data and Java as the verb, doing stuff with it all.

There are some good quotes, though. Papadopoulos speaks about how difficult it is to deal with large networks. "One thing that scales perfectly well is unreliability."

Gosling shares an anecdote about how the Japanese have virtual kennels for their virtual pets. If somebody goes out of the country for a week and can't bring their Tamagotchi along, he'll pay somebody to house, feed, and play with the pet while he's gone. And it's a huge business! Everyone laughs. "I wish I was joking," Gosling frowns.

The KVM Talk

Out I look into the sea of developer guys. The room is the size of two airplane hangars and nearly full to the brim. Probably a good 2,000 people are seated before me, no doubt regarding me as cynically and curiously as I regard other speakers.

Whether I'm speaking to ten people or a million, there's always the same sort of quasi-nervousness and quasi-excitement of sharing knowledge. I switch off all thoughts entirely and just get up on stage and hope I don't make too big a fool of myself.

A burly technician sticks his hand up my shirt to attach a wireless mike. I'm given the cue. Music fills the room, the lights dim, the din quiets. I launch in with, "Welcome, everyone," and hear my own voice echoing back. It sounds like I'm mimicking myself.

At first, I merely read my slides off the teleprompter. But as I get more into it, I begin to prance around the stage. I make bad jokes, then worse jokes. A few people walk out. I go off on tangents and spout crazy theories. I give an honest look at KVM, blemishes and all and say things like, "Today, it kind of sucks. Tomorrow, it will be great!"

I talk too fast. It's over in 40 minutes. No problem, though. Time for questions. And there are plenty of questions. Good ones, too. Things I'd meant to talk about, things I'd never considered. Afterward, I meet lots of people attempting similar things. I feel like I've actually shared something. I have no idea what.

About the Author

David Fox is vice president of Games at PlayLink, Inc. He's also the author of numerous books and articles about cyberculture and technology.

Part two of this article:JavaOne 2000: Developer Diary






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