Sun’s JavaFX: Smart Move or Too Much Caffeine?

Taking on the likes of Adobe and Microsoft, Sun Microsystems on Tuesday unveiled its new JavaFX family of products for building rich Internet applications.

Based on Sun’s longstanding Java platform, JavaFX includes a runtime and a tools suite that Web scripters, designers and developers can use to quickly build and deliver rich interactive applications for desktop, mobile devices, TV and other platforms.

JavaFX Desktop for desktop browsers and applications will be available this fall, while JavaFX Mobile will ship in spring 2009. JavaFX TV is due to be available summer 2009.

“Java technology has evolved to be the most powerful, scalable and secure development platform for a broad range of enterprise and mobile applications,” said Rich Green, Sun’s executive vice president of software, at the JavaOne developer conference. “Java technology is now ready for the new creative audiences that have emerged in response to consumer demand for rich content — scripters, social application creators, designers, content authors and consumers.”

Tools Suite

Sun’s JavaFX Tools Suite is designed to give developers the freedom to create expressive content, applications and connected services for consumers of rich Internet applications across devices or screens.

JavaFX Development Tools, for example, include a plug-in for NetBeans; plug-ins for Eclipse and other IDEs are planned for the future. The JavaFX Media Converter for exporting rich media content directly into JavaFX, meanwhile, is due this summer, while the JavaFX Designer Authoring Tool will debut this spring.

Sun’s JavaFX business unit will leverage the capabilities of JavaFX to deliver a suite of content and applications starting in 2009, the company said.

Finally, for those who can’t stand to wait, this summer Sun will release an early access version of the JavaFX runtime for the browser and desktop, along with a Web site and forum for soliciting feedback.

Visibility Challenge

With Adobe’s AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight among its competitors, Sun’s JavaFX will face challenges, Laura DiDio, an analyst with Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.

“Sun has always brought very credible technology to the table, but they are going up against Adobe, which is established, and Silverlight, which can spend big bucks on marketing,” she explained. “Sun’s biggest challenge will be one of visibility — getting people to try it when they are the third or fourth choice here.”

Sun does enjoy a very loyal installed base, DiDio added, but “it’s attracting attention outside the installed base that will be necessary for the product to thrive. They’re fighting for air time in a public with an increasingly short attention span.”

A Question of Funding

Java users are loyal, but “the problem with Adobe and Microsoft is that they are both very well funded,” Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group, agreed. “These are strategic platforms for them.”

Sun’s technology, on the other hand, is “late to the table, and Sun is clearly having some financial issues,” Enderle told LinuxInsider. “That means they may not be able to fund it to the level it needs.”

The real key, DiDio added, is going to be interoperability with applications, environments, drivers and the like. “They don’t want to get into a situation like Microsoft with Vista, where it’s being called a bad product because it’s incompatible with too many established applications,” she said.

It will be “a real disadvantage for Sun if it does not support at least two or three revisions back on its own platform,” she said — “preferably three, given the cost constraints we’re seeing industrywide.”

Room for Growth

Is the rich Internet applications arena becoming too crowded?

“That’s always the fear, but any market segment — unless it’s very, very niche — can comfortably support three top-tier competitors and as many as eight second- and third-tier players and still make a good living,” DiDio asserted.

It’s also important to note that this market, in particular, “is still young and emerging,” she added. “The market adoption will take years to fully mature.”

Looking ahead, there’s no question that any of the big players in the space “can get client software to the browsers, and know how to do that,” Enderle concluded. “But Sun will at some point have to pick the fights it fights, and you’ve got to wonder if this is going to be one of them.”

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