JavaEnterprise JavaHypewatch: JavaOne 2001

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Well, this was my fourth year attending JavaOne. Several things were different. For one — I had no expense account! Having recently started my own small, one-person, company, I was digging into my own pockets this year. No longer was JavaOne a party, a marathon, a vacation… attending it this year was a true decision in hopes of making good contacts, learning a bit about the latest APIs, and just spending a week focusing on this language that is more than a language.

David Fox

Although I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, I will say that oh-so very little has changed since last year. Sure, there were a few thousand more attendees — the keynote took up three entire ballrooms. Sure, there was a new crop of fun, fancy buzzwords such as “Provisioning” and “Web Services”. But all in all it was the same convention center, the same dazed faces, many of the same topics and same speakers and same tedious PowerPoint presentations, and, I daresay, the same food.

But what I felt most of the time was the strangest mix of awe and embarrassment. Awe and embarrassment at the slick but pathetic infomercial production values, awe and embarrassment at the idiot-savant personalities of my fellow developers, awe and embarrassment at the endless promises from Sun and other Java companies, and A&E at myself and my own career and all that has and has not been accomplished over this past year.

This year, I took a little break from it all. I skipped Larry Ellison’s keynote and all of Thursday’s sessions and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to hike among the redwoods. The grandeur of these 1000 year-old, 200-foot-tall wrinkled-skin monsters made me meditate on JavaOne and Java in general. This forest is all about awe — not embarrassment.

It may be stretching an analogy to compare Java to the grandeur of primordial trees, but surely there’s a lesson here.

See, one of the park rangers was talking about the salmon — how years past so many would spawn that you could walk across the water on their pink, slick backs. But lately, populations have fallen drastically and you need sharp eyes to pick out a fish on the river floor. Somehow that reminded me of all the dollars and companies that went into Java and technology. And it reminded me that this is all natural.

The JavaOne Expo floor had a massive amount of wireless companies touting J2ME servers and devices. You can tell where last year’s VC dollars went.

The rise and fall of companies, markets, computer languages — all natural. Where Java fails, and where most of the hype and embarrassment comes into play, is when people try forcing things — taking an immature aspect of Java and trying to treat it like a grown up.

So where is Java today?

There seem to be several interesting focuses. On the server side, the Java Enterprise Edition tools and specifications are getting to the point where all a developer will need to do to build an e-business site is to draw a quick UML sketch on a used napkin! Today, however, most application servers are messy and confusing and don’t quite live up to the hype — you can get things to work, but painfully. The latest crop of databases, application servers, and enterprise tools do seem, at quick glance, to be genuinely useful, though.

On the client side, the Java Micro Edition seems poised to enter every cell phone, set-top box, refrigerator, toilet, and brain implant. The JavaOne Expo floor had a massive amount of wireless companies touting J2ME servers and devices. You can tell where last year’s VC dollars went. But so far micro-Java hasn’t really permeated consumer consciousness. And unless J2ME devices become as ubiquitous and easy to use as TV, really doing anything useful with it will be improbable.

So I guess we’re all waiting. As with redwoods, this is a game where the well-timed and patient will win.

About the Author

David Fox is launching his own software company in New York City. He’s also the author of numerous books and articles about cyberculture and technology.

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