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"The grand notion is that individuals can take code, modify it to
suit their own selfish needs, fixing bugs and adding features, and bettering
everything for everyone in the process. It’s socialism with a Republican


Ed. note: The opinions expressed below are entirely those of the author.

The Prize

I get a message from my office that “Motorola People” have been trying to reach me all day. After calling around (it’s funny how none of them pick up their cell phones), I finally reach somebody who tells me I’m one of six finalists. I ask him what the prizes are. A $6,000 vacation trip tops off the list, then a motor scooter, and finally a new cell phone.

Remember what I said before, about Java not being about the money? I lied. I’m ecstatic! Though I know the odds of me getting the good prize are highly low, since my application was kind of lame. No doubt, I’ll wind up with the damn scooter.

"There’s a fine art to the
booth-hop. It’s a very special, very awkward dance that
consists of the attendee trying to grab as many free T-shirts,
candy, and other chotchkes as possible while avoiding as
many disks and glossy brochures.


The food and drink at the judging reception is great! I get a little tipsy. Then I explain my app to a group of “celebrity” judges — executives from Sun, Motorola, and NexTel. I lose at my own game. The bomb explodes and I face my greatest fear.

In the end, they wind up magnanimously giving the $6,000 trip to all six finalists. Kenya, here I come! Or Bali? Or … It’ll be weird to travel and stay at luxury hotels — I’m more a backpack and hostel type of guy. But I’m extremely grateful. Still, I wish I knew how I actually placed in the contest. You can’t really feel good about winning unless somebody else loses. Horrible, horrible. But no time to celebrate with a drink. Have to run to the BOF.


The company I work for, PlayLink, decided to have five of our engineers talk at the BOF. The reason for this was not only to share multiple viewpoints and a wider expertise but to obtain five free passes to the conference. One of the developers is a little shy about talking in front of crowds. He goes to throw up.

We had all these neat ideas for the BOF — fancy multimedia presentation, amazing demo, and even turning the whole event into a mass game where everybody is given a Java class on an index card and has to work together to figure out who holds the superclass. But we haven’t really had time to prepare. So we wing it. But the casual approach turns out to be the best idea, since there are more questions than answers — more ideas than implementations. All in the room decide to join together and work on a Java Game API. E-mail addresses are collected, and the future of games in Java looks good, if enough people participate.

The Parties and Blues Traveler

Overall, I don’t have much time for partying. Like a fool, I’m attending night sessions, instead. Buzz from the street is that the parties pretty much suck, though. Instead of beer at the Moscone Center, it’s beer at some lame bar, surrounded by the same awkward, anti-social developers.

Two parties that sounded promising were a JavaOne Five Year bash at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and a jGuru party at F.A.O. Schwartz, where you can drink lots and play with the toys. But I opt to skip those big shindigs and go to a special JavaOne-only Blues Traveler concert.

I worm my way close. I can feel the spray of John Popper’s spit every time he blows high notes into his harp. The highlight of the night is a version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” with the refrain played with harmonica instead of the fiddle. Damn good stuff. I go to the bar and order a beer. I am handed my plastic cup, along with those most fearful words, “Five dollars, please.” It’s inconceivable to me that some people actually pay money for alcohol.

Blues Traveler sums it all up with their chorus, “The answer … is getting harder.”

Every night of the conference, there was also the usual After-Hours bash. This consisted of a jam room (drunk programmers singing and playing instruments), a game room (drunk programmers playing pool and air hockey), a band room (a drunk band performing bad 80s songs to drunk programmers), and a taping of Ben Stein’s Money: JavaOne Edition (a drunk Ben Stein getting wiped by drunker programmers).

A note here: A hearty thumb’s-down to the JavaOne planners for treating speakers like second-class citizens. We weren’t allowed into the After-Hours party at all. Of course, I jut covered the ribbon on my badge and rushed in before the guards could stop me. But, still … it’s insulting to be turned away. Also, after waiting on line for 45 minutes one morning, I was told that Blues Traveler tickets weren’t being offered to speakers. Luckily, a friend of mine got me an extra.

Attendees pay upwards of $1,200 to go to JavaOne to see the speakers, who volunteer their time and energy, put their reputation on the line, to get up there. So let’s hope next year the presenters are treated with more respect. Or else JavaOne 2001 will find itself without any sessions at all.


A billboard truck keeps driving around the Moscone Center with Sun’s ad: “Ubercoder: The Man Who Can Build Anything.” Avoiding the truck, hungover, I settle into the big hall for yet another keynote. I’m not looking forward to it.

The speaker is Tim O’Reilly, president and founder of technical book publisher O’Reilly and Associates. He rehashes ideas about open source, but at least he’s nice and concise about it. He talks about how the fact that HTML is essentially open source led to the growth of the Web. The best way to learn programming is to steal somebody else’s code. “You don’t even need to talk to them.” The grand notion is that individuals can take code, modify it to suit their own selfish needs, fixing bugs and adding features, and bettering everything for everyone in the process. It’s socialism with a Republican twist.

"Anyone who believes in Java technology today — and I
count myself in that group — must take responsibility so that it
doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.


Then Brian Behlendorf, CTO of, shows off, which will turn the popular Java development environment into an open source initiative. Within an hour of going live, a user had added a major ANT makefiles feature. Cool stuff. I plan to download a copy and play with it, myself.

O’Reilly’s own network is working on tools to open up the Web, as well. One of his engineers demonstrates something called Meerkat — a tool that scrapes sites such as for specific data and converts it to XML. This allows users to get just the headlines, summaries, or topics they are interested in. The demo gets a bit longwinded and O’Reilly snaps at his employee, “They don’t care about any of that!” He may dig open source, but sure doesn’t seem like an open boss.

Then Chris Galvin, CEO of Motorola, comes up. Since Motorola had just awarded me the trip, I was very open to this talk, hushing people around me and constantly cheering, “Amen, Chris!” But in the end, Galvin said no more and no less than what you’d expect a Motorola CEO to say — that the company is utterly committed to fast, wireless access and providing customers with whatever the heck they want. (Perhaps the most interesting tidbit was how the name Motorola came about — their first product was a car radio, so they combined motorcar and Victorola.) Some interesting stats, however: In two years there will be more wireless phone users than standard phoners. And fifty percent of the voice-mail in the next decade will be received wirelessly.

The Pavilion

With all that has occurred so far, I haven’t really had time to go to the Pavilion. So I decide to skip an afternoon session and do nothing but booth-hop. There’s a fine art to the booth-hop. It’s a very special, very awkward dance that consists of the attendee trying to grab as many free T-shirts, candy, and other chotchkes as possible while avoiding as many disks and glossy brochures. It typically goes something like this:

Attendee: “Hi.”

Booth Master: “Hey. Do you use Java?”

A: “Uh, yeah. You guys giving away that flashlight?”

B: “Because we have something that’s really amazing. It’s enterprisewide and enabling and extensible and only $49,999.”

A: “Cool. Say, that flashlight is neat.”

B: “Let me call over my technical guy here to interface with you. You don’t mind waiting do you?”

Every other company does something with “Enterprise Java Beans,” which have always sounded like Capt. Kirk at a Starbucks, to me. I manage to feign interest and I wind up collecting: A flashlight, a rubber ball with a light inside it, a foam-rubber heart, a foam-rubber brain, a huge mug, a steel lunchbox, a glow-in-the-dark yo-yo, stickers, and about four T-shirts.

The winner for the best giveaway? The Java Certification program, with a screwdriver that has many heads built in. Actually useful!

Runner-up is a Nerf shotgun. It always amazes me how people will fill out anything or stand on any size line to get something they would never otherwise want, just because it’s being handed out in an otherwise arid sea of freebies. What’s even more amazing is that I join the queue.

The weirdest gift? A five-foot long, orange Styrofoam staff with a goofy dinosaur head. I have no idea, and I don’t want to know.


My only friend, the end.

Until now, my strategy has been to attend as much as possible. I realize I will have to modify that. Instead, I will need to ditch as much as possible today, or else I will not remain sane — or as sane, I should say. Luckily, everyone has pretty much had it by Friday. The pavilion is closed. The beer is no longer flowing. People rush out during sessions to go catch flights. The cleaning crew removes beanbags right out from under you. There’s an anti-climactic hush throughout the Moscone Center.

The keynote is only one hour. It starts off with a quick video recounting the last few days, all based on footage taken by John Gage and his Java-enabled Sony camcorder. He approaches people and asks them what they think of the conference. All of them say positive things like, “It’s awesome!” So I decide to run my own poll. I get answers like:

“I won a yo-yo. It yos but it doesn’t light up. That’s what the conference is like, to me.”

And: “It’s a little overwhelming, and a little smelly, but cool to be a part of.”

And: “What conference?”

Then Gage talks about how Java can aid people with disabilities, “namely, all of us.” A Sun project leader named Earl Johnson (not to be mistaken with Earvin Johnson) rolls out in his cyber-neon wheelchair. He uses his voice, powered through a Jini server, to control an imaginary house, raising window shades, turning on the heat, and dimming a lamp. Peter Korn, another Sun whiz, demonstrates how he can control the same devices with a wireless Braille keyboard.

It all ends the way it began — with schmaltz. A Regis-esque host comes out and music is cued, lights sweep the stage, and three lucky guys step up to play, “So You’ve Never Wanted to Be Anything But a Java Programmer.”

Each contestant must answer twelve questions, win a million points, and walk away with a Sun leather bomber jacket. There are only two lifelines: Ask John Gage and Ask the Audience.

The first contestant makes it to about a third of the way. The second uses up both lifelines during the first two questions, then strikes out. The third makes it nearly to the end but then flubs. The audience boos. The Regis-esque host decides to give him the answer.

The upshot?

So why have 25,000 people shown up? The chance to skip work? I doubt it. Most of these guys prefer work and feel naked without it. The chance for sickening quantities of free beer? Yeah, sure. But big beer drinkers, as a group, we are not. The technical sessions? Sure, many are quality, but nothing you couldn’t find reading a good book or Web article.

We are all hoping for a possible glimpse of the future — as a technology, an industry, and personally. But everyone here knows that Java One’s noise-to-information ratio is extremely high.

No. I think the biggest reason to come to JavaOne is to be around others who do the exact same thing as you do. To validate that your profession has meaning, has resonance, and that there are lots of others who are interested in the same esoteric ideas. One guy I spoke to on the shuttle bus had just started programming in Java. “For a week, the Moscone Center becomes like another country,” he said, “with its own rules, with people talking in acronyms like JSP and EJB and Jini, all instead of English.”

I think that typifies it. For Java is not just a programming language. It is a language in the cultural sense, a real set of nouns and verbs that lets people — and devices — communicate. Sun says, “You own it.” But they do. Just as Inuits have 10 words for snow and the Sioux have no word for “war” — a language is highly indicative of who is using it. A language will not only define a current culture, it will set the parameters for future generations. But the more legacy systems are built in Java, the more of a challenge it becomes to change things. Languages congeal over time.

If Java is a standard open for one and all, for the free and the brave, why does a global corporation own all rights to it and savagely protect its license? Truth is, much like the desktop revolution couldn’t have happened without Microsoft, I don’t think the standard language movement will happen without Sun and its profit motive. But I foresee a time, in the near future, when Sun puts down its boot and the rest of us will either have to follow suit or strike up on our own.

As such, anyone who believes in Java technology today — and I count myself in that group — must take responsibility so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. You must bitch and moan and really understand the specifications that matter to you, and to what you want to be doing in 20 years, and make sure your needs aren’t missed. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

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 one of this two-part article:
JavaOne 2000: Developer Diary

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