By Barb Seewer

Over the past two years, Java has become one of the most widely used tools for application development in the enterprise. In fact, Java programmers are now among the most sought-after developers. If you haven’t had a chance to learn Java—or if your skills are a little rusty—the Hands-On Java CD can help you get up to speed. The CD offers an effective, low-cost way to learn Java or to refresh your knowledge, and it’s a useful reference. Hands-On Java consists of 15 hours of lectures that are given by Bruce Eckel and based on his book Thinking in Java. The CD includes more than 500 slides. The only prerequisite is that you have some experience with the C language syntax. It also helps if you have some familiarity with object-oriented buzzwords so you won’t be overwhelmed by the terminology.

System requirements
The Hands-On Java CD will run on Windows and the Macintosh using IE 5.0 or greater and on Linux and UNIX using Netscape 4.7 or greater. The sound format is MP3 played via RealPlayer (the free basic version will work—version 8 is available from the RealPlayer site).

To run the examples, you’ll need the Java Development Kit (JDK), which you can download from You’ll also need Adobe Acrobat to view the handouts (copies of the slides with a space for notes next to them). For the seminar itself, your video card and monitor must support at least an 800 x 600 screen resolution. The Foreword and Overview section of the CD is available as a downloadable demo. This allows you to verify if your system has the correct software loaded to run the CD.

“Attending” the seminar
The seminar begins with an introduction to objects and controlling program flow and then covers initialization and cleanup procedures. Next, it moves on to more complex object-oriented topics, such as reusing classes, polymorphism, and inner classes. After that, you’re introduced to error handling, the Java I/O system, and run-time type identification. Finally, the seminar discusses even more advanced topics, such as creating Windows and applets, multiple threads, and distributed computing.

The lectures vary in length, with the shortest running one minute and the longest running 109 minutes. Navigating between lectures and items within a lecture is simple. Whether you’re looking up a certain topic for reference or just taking up where you left off, you can easily find your way around the material on the CD. The only downside to the operation of the seminar on CD is that the program doesn’t track your progress. Therefore, when you exit the seminar, the only way for you to save your place is to use your browser’s bookmark feature. Although this is an effective workaround, you may find it cumbersome if you tend to exit and return to the program frequently.

The biggest advantage of attending this virtual seminar versus attending a live lecture is that you can turn it off and on at will. Also, if you miss some information, you can easily replay it via the RealPlayer interface.

Testing what you’ve learned
The seminar claims that you’ll be able to write your own Java program by the end of the second lecture (after learning the basics of objects). To guide you through this first programming effort, the CD includes a simple example of a routine that prints information to the screen. To run the program, you need to have the JDK installed and know how to invoke the Java compiler. (The lectures don’t include instructions on compiling and running a Java program.)

I found this seminar to be loaded with information—sometimes too much to absorb. Fortunately, there are a lot of simple examples, which were extremely useful in helping me understand the points covered in the seminar.

The examples are available in a ZIP file and are easily identifiable since the filenames match the public class names. All the examples I tried compiled easily and ran as advertised.

How to purchase the seminar
You can purchase the CD online from MindView for $50, plus shipping ($5, in my case). If you’re hesitant to send your credit card information over the Net, you can mail a check.

This seminar is a supplement to Bruce Eckel’s book Thinking in Java, which is available free in electronic form from MindView in Word 97 and HTML format. (It’s also included on the Hands-On Java CD.) You can buy a printed copy of the book if you prefer.

When all is said and done
This seminar is a great way to get familiar with Java or to improve on your current knowledge. If you’re learning Java from scratch, plan to spend more than 15 hours going through the lectures. I replayed several slides and complete lectures when I had problems understanding a topic, lost my concentration, or had taken a break to run the examples.

The seminar doesn’t tell you all you need to know about Java, but it lays a good foundation. I didn’t look at the electronic form of the book or purchase a printed copy, but several times during the lectures, the narrator suggests that you refer to the text if you want more details or examples. This CD is well worth $50. I would rather listen at my convenience to a set of quality lectures based on a book and given by its author than attend a seminar in an uncomfortable room and listen to who knows who—or to try to tackle reading a book on the topic.