Swing, RIA and JavaFX – interview with David Qiao

May 23rd, 2008

Meet David Qiao, the founder of JIDE Software, as the interview series on Swing, RIA and JavaFX that started with Amy Fowler and Mikael Grev continues.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

David Qiao pictureMy software career started after I got a bachelor degree in computer science from Nanjing University and a master degree on the same field from SUNY at Buffalo. After “wasting” several years doing MFC and .NET stuffs, I finally found what I love to do and can be proud of – founding JIDE Software back in 2003 and working on Java/Swing and UI design. Since then, I am lucky to ride the new wave of Java desktop and drive JIDE to be one of the leading Swing components and services providers.

You’re writing open-source and commercial Swing components primarily oriented at business applications. How do you think Swing fares as compared to competing toolkits, such as MFC, Delphi, GTK, Cocoa, QT and others?

Swing lacks the basic out-of-box components comparing with other toolkits. It is rare to see a GUI toolkit that doesn’t come with a date chooser component, for example. Swing doesn’t have one. Swing also suffered from relatively more bugs and sluggishness, especially when it affects the basic functionality of a user interface. It didn’t come with a decent built-in GUI designer like Visual Studio or Delphi does. Swing would have been more successful by addressing these three issues early on. Even so, Swing still stood out among all the UI toolkits mainly because of its elegant design, cross platform availability, pluggable L&F and being part of core Java. Things are certainly moving forward in recent years on all three issues. More and more companies are choosing Swing as their UI toolkits. I just hope Sun doesn’t mess up again this time.

Other UI toolkits seem to have much larger variety of professional third-party component suites. Amy Fowler attributes this to the rise of web applications, but it didn’t seem to affect the market of Delphi and .NET components. What are your thoughts?

I believe consumer applications are the driving force for .NET components. What platforms are the consumers using? Windows, period. They don’t care about Linux or Mac (at least a few years ago). .NET is good enough for them. Swing is used largely in enterprise applications inside relatively larger companies. Many companies spent their own developer hours to make custom components and use them internally only. They have larger budget and have a longer release cycle so they can afford to make their own components. I bet this kind of thing will not happen in .NET for a consumer application as the release cycle is short and they just want to buy the components and get it done faster. So I believe this is the reason for large 3rd component market in .NET. I would love to see statistics showing the number and type of applications writing in each toolkit to prove if what I said is correct.

What do you think about Sun’s new direction of client Java towards RIA space with JavaFX?

Great. Technologies are merging. Microsoft introduces Silverlight to light up the web. Adobe introduces Flex to flash up the desktop. It is certainly making sense for Sun to introduce JavaFX to enter the consumer application market. It is a new market for Sun so it really has nothing to loose. However entering new market doesn’t mean giving up existing markets. Sun should continue investing in Swing. Swing is popular among enterprise applications and should be kept that way. I doubt large complex enterprise applications will use JavaFX any time soon. It will still primarily Swing’s market, maybe with some help from SceneGraph. Not even Flex.

Are you planning to wrap your components for easier consumption in JavaFX applications?

Absolutely. It gives JIDE a chance to enter the consumer application market, why not?

Can Swing be considered a premier choice for cross-platform UI development today? Would you recommend Swing for building large long-term business applications?

Of course. As I mentioned above, Swing is already used in many large complex enterprise applications. It is a perfect fit.

Would you want to see your products folded into the core JDK distribution, and why?

I would love to see it. Some of the basic features should be included in JDK. I had a talk at this year’s JavaOne where I mentioned the support for non-contiguous cell selection in JTable. Swing JTable is totally wrong when the cell selection is enabled. JIDE fixed this in JideTable. I would love to contribute the code back to Swing, and for free of course. There are many features or bug fixes in JIDE that I would like to contribute back. Why? Those are basic features that should be included in every UI toolkit. It is already a mistake that we had to add those features ourselves.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We mentioned on our website that “Thousands and thousands of developers’ valuable hours are wasted on building the same component which has been built elsewhere. Why don’t you focus on the most value-added part of your application and let us build those commonly used components for you?” Believe it or not, it is true. Many developers wrote their own general purpose Swing components. Raise your hand if you do! I just want to take this chance to say, please use existing components if you can find one, from JIDE, SwingX, or any other open source or commercial component vendors. It will save your money, save your time and accelerate your application development. A healthy third-party component market is very important for any UI toolkits.