October 26th, 2007

Java desktop wishlist for 2008

While the Java blogosphere is raging with debates on closures, properties and other negligible language-level features, the client-side battle is still fought between Microsoft, Adobe and Apple. And while finally Sun decided to step in with JavaFX and improved applet handling, this will change little without the tools for content handling.

As i already said, the customers don’t care about the technology. In “The Agnostic Geek“, Brandon Carson writes:

when you look at a web page, do you think, “Gee, I wonder if they coded this in BBEdit or Dreamweaver?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t give a flip what software product is used to create a web page. Use TextEdit for all I care.

And so, who cares that the applets will load instantly when there are so few good applets? Just look at the amazing breadth of Flash content created by professional designers. Content that has rich multimedia capabilities. Capabilities that come built in with the platform. Platform that is oriented towards content.

So, what are my top two wishes for Java desktop for 2008?

Number one: Cross-platform support for H.264 and FLV formats.

Showing is good, but it also must support creating the content and editing the content (just look at the Sliverlight demoes). And don’t tell me that 99.9% of the market doesn’t need editing. If you want to lead the market, you have to cover everything that the competition has and then some.

I don’t know about the licensing issues, but the reference implementation for H.264 is not that big. And Onavia already has pure-Java player. So it can’t be that hard once you decide to put as many resources on that as you do on JavaFX. And even better, accelerate it with OpenGL and Direct3D, while at the same time gracefully degrading to software loops on older cards.

Number two: Converters and viewers for competing markup formats.

You know what i’m talking about – those pesky competitors that have 99.9% percent of the consumer-facing rich desktop market. Flash / SWF, Flex / MXML and WPF / XAML. Each has its own set of designer tools for creating rich content. Each has armies of professional designers versatile in using those tools, in addition to Photoshop, Maya and others. Do you really expect them to master yet another (unproven) designer tool?

If JavaFX wants to have a fighting chance, it needs to provide a simple migration path. A path that allows taking an existing Flex / Silverlight application and importing it to JavaFX (at least the visuals). XAML has at least three – converter from Maya, converter from Photoshop and converter from SWF. The importing is not enough. You have to have exporting as well. If you’re not convinced, read what Joel Spolsky says about how Excel managed to overpower Lotus:

And this reminded me of Excel’s tipping point, which happened around the time of Excel 4.0. And the biggest reason was that Excel 4.0 was the first version of Excel that could write Lotus spreadsheets transparently.

 

Yep, you heard me. Write. Not read. It turns out that what was stopping people from switching to Excel was that everybody else they worked with was still using Lotus 123. They didn’t want a product that would create spreadsheets that nobody else could read: a classic Chicken and Egg problem. When you’re the lone Excel fan in a company where everyone else is using 123, even if you love Excel, you can’t switch until you can participate in the 123 ecology.

If you want to have professional designers to switch to JavaFX, provide a clear path back. Not that they’ll take it (of course, if the tools and the runtime are bad, they will), but it will give them a nice sense of security.

An extra step would be to allow using the same exact content at runtime without converting it to JavaFX. Soyatec does it partially for XAML, so it can be done. But if you do it, support the complete feature set (including 3D and, guess what, rich multimedia). A bonus part would be to include a bitmap to SVG converter – see VectorMagic for inspiration.

That’s it. I have only two wishes. Granted, these are two big hefty wishes. Will they come true? The first one might partially be, and the second one is highly unlikely.