Immovable. Unshaken.

June 11th, 2010

Bear with me for a moment. There’s this guy sitting in a bar. He doesn’t have any money to pay for the drinks, and nobody wants to invite him to join their table. Thinking about what he can do, he sees a bunch of guys from Mongolia sitting around a table full of food and alcohol. Strolling over, he asks them: “Do you want to hear a story about a fight between a russian warrior and a mongol warrior”? Half ignoring him, they say “whatever, go ahead”.

“And so the story goes that a russian warrior and a mongol warrior met for a fight. The mongol struck the russian, and the russian sunk into the ground up to his ankles”. The mongols are starting to pay some interest, and give the guy a small drink. After finishing the drink the guy continues. “The mongol strikes the russian one more time, and the russian sinks into the ground up to his knees”. The mongols give him some food and more to drink. “He strikes him the third time, and the russian sinks into the ground up to his chest”.

Now the mongols are really happy, giving him some steak to eat and more to drink. The guy starts getting drunk and relaxed, and continues the story. “Now it’s time for the russian. He strikes him once, but the mongol stands. Immovable, unshaken”. The mongols keep on giving him more food and alcohol. “The russian strikes once more, but the mongol stands. Immovable, unshaken”. They give him all their food, captivated by the story. The guy keeps on drinking. “The russian strikes the third time, but the mongol stands. Immovable, unshaken”. The mongols are ecstatic, unable to contain their joy. The guy is done with eating and drinking, and leans back to rest. The mongols are urging him to continue the story and keep on asking him what’s next. The guy says: “What’s next? The mongol stands. Immovable, unshaken. With only his ears above the ground”. (*)

Which brings me to Swing. The last 18 months have seen little change in the direction of the core Swing library – maintenance and bug fixing. With every passing milestone of JDK 7, more and more Swing features have been removed from the feature list. Swing application framework, SwingX painters and new components all fell to the side. And while there have been a number of bug fixes in the last few months, the only public API enhancements in core Swing are shaped / translucent windows (an API that has been promoted from 6u10+ to be public) and JLayer (an almost direct port of JXLayer).

In the meantime, we’re not going to see any of:

  • Components such as date picker, month view, task panes, split buttons.
  • A modern (HTML 5 / CSS 3) browser component.
  • Form / grid oriented layout managers.
  • Binding.
  • Video playback / recording.
  • Docking / windowing.
  • API enhancements to the table component.

Given how much is going on with JavaFX, this is not really surprising. This just confirms what i said before. Core Swing is in feature freeze, immovable, unshaken. It is a solid foundation, and lends itself quite easily to external third-party enhancements. But as far as the core feature set – it’s not going anywhere. A couple of random observations.

Since Oracle acquisition, the bug fixing pace has definitely picked up. There’s a bunch of bugs being fixed in both Swing and Java2D. On the other hand, JavaFX has Prism, a new rendering pipeline for mobile, desktop and TV stacks. While Swing / Java2D has been the foundation of JavaFX desktop profile before, and we enjoyed incidental performance improvements and bug fixes as the result, it’s not going to last for very long. New composites, hardware acceleration, new graphic primitives are unlikely to be ported and maintained in two different pipelines. And i would imagine that internally Prism also has quite a few different backends, each one optimized for the specific graphics hardware – meaning more work in the foreseeable future outside the existing Java2D backends.

NetBeans is an interesting beast. A solid foundation for writing modular boring business applications, it has not seen any of its features ported to core Swing. We’re talking about docking, windowing, sliding palettes, layouts, application framework and more. If the crossover has not happened until now, how likely is it that it will happen in the future? Speculating widely, recently rumored cuts in european / asian offices may jeopardize the future of NetBeans – which, to the best of my knowledge, is mainly developed in Prague. And don’t forget that Oracle has its own JDeveloper IDE. The only hope for NetBeans would be if they position themselves as the platform for JavaFX development. Given Eclipse’s dominance presence outside the internal bubble, how long will it be before the internal investment in NetBeans is reconsidered in this profit-oriented environment?

And what’s up with an embeddable browser component? Seriously, everybody is doing it. WebKit must be exposed in a gazillion other UI toolkits by now. Big companies are doing it. Small companies are doing it. It’s been what? Two, three years? If this is still going on internally, and you’re thinking to somehow monetize your investment, you can forget about it. Open source it now, and let people help you. You’re not really thinking that this port is going to be so unique that companies will be lining up to pay top dollar to license it.

(*) Russian readers not familiar with the joke can find the original here (number 48). This is not really politically correct, but i’m sure that every folklore has its own version.