It's been a long hype cycle for Sun's RIA strategy. JavaFx was first touted in 2007 and a public beta took almost a year to reach the hands of developers. While the official release is scheduled anytime between now and December, I can't help feel that Sun has lost momentum in a space it should own.
Earlier this year Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, claimed that Java has always been an RIA platform. Technically, he is correct — Java is and was "write once, run anywhere (that has the Java virtual machine)" platform. For Sun, client-side Java never really took off for Web apps and to a large extent technology like Flash, and later AJAX, stole the show. Although Java at first stumbled with performance issues, it was on par with these technologies but never seem to marry the designer tools and the developer back-end know-how efficiently.
Fast-forward to 2008 and Adobe is the clear leader in the RIA world and its investment in technologies like Flex and Air are pulling traditional Java developers away from aging technologies like Swing. On top of this Microsoft has stuck its RIA pole in the ground with Silverlight and is looking to drum up a large developer community with their technology stack. Microsoft is catching up fast.
Sun is running behind. For a company that itself boasts penetration rates of its virtual machine to be 85% of desktops, 90% of handsets, and many home entertainment devices, the progress seems slow-going.
Sun needs to be seen as innovating in this area. Technology decisions are made on progressive platforms which attract significant investment in time and resources by the company that produces it. It's simply not good enough to leave Java quietly chugging along in the corner, even if it is open source.
If Sun can marry the client-side potential of JavaFX to the server-side it will be a huge boost to the company, the Java community, and related vendors who are powered by Java technology. If not, Java certainly won't go away, but it's not going to attract a great deal of new business.
The stakes will be even higher in the embedded market for Sun, an area in which it has strong marketshare. With JavaFX for mobile devices due out in early to mid 2009 the company will need to show its platform is up to speed compared to stiff competition from Google's Java-powered Android phones, Microsoft's mobile platform, the iPhone, and other next-generation phones.
Can Sun do it? Maybe it can. Will Java live on? Of course it will. With or without Sun in the picture Java will still be innovated by the likes of IBM, Google, and Oracle. The technology just needs a clear steward to take it to the next level.
What do you think of Sun's efforts with JavaFX? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.