Best and worst of JavaOne 2002

A break down of the JavaOne 2002 electric boogaloo

The five-day marathon of Sun Microsystems' 2002 JavaOne developer conference has come to an end. The success of this year's conference shows the resilience and strength of the Java development community. Herein are my personal rants and raves as I weaved my way through the show.

Best unintended consequence

In terms of attendance, the 2002 JavaOne conference hearkens back to Java's earlier years. My best guesstimate, based on conference buzz and previous conference crowds, is that about 12,000 people attended this year's show. We definitely missed y'all, but I didn't mind a less crowded conference hall.

In talking with various vendors, they reported that total booth traffic was down from previous years. The upside was that they got to spend more quality time with people, more of whom seemed interested in their products and technologies.

In talking with various attendees, most really liked that they could spend more time chatting with other attendees and vendors. Yeah, there was the usual running around between sessions, but the overload factor was lower than the frenetic pace of a couple years ago.

Worst unintended consequence

Every year, JavaOne attendees receive some sort of bag to carry all the schwag and what not. This year's bag combined a backpack with a roller bag. That is, you could wear it as a backpack or extend the telescopic handle and pull the bag behind you on its small wheels.

I didn't care for the bag because the roller feature takes up way too much valuable storage space. But, based on feedback and observation of other attendees, the roller bag was a big hit.

Alas, this silver cloud did have a dark lining. It seemed everybody rolled the darn things around the show -- even through thick crowds. That exacerbated the crowds getting into and out of the sessions, and caused a good bit of consternation as people stumbled over them.

Hype of the year

Every JavaOne seems to have a theme that pervades the show. The hyped theme this year was a combination of "end-to-end" and "mobility." Yes, as expected, there was a good bit of blather about Web services, but even that was primarily in the contexts of creating complete end-to-end and mobile solutions. A good part of the end-to-end push was an attempt to leverage Java's success as a server-side solution and reposition Java as a strong client-side solution for the desktop and for devices, such as phones, PDAs, and set-top boxes.

Biggest keynote letdown

Last year's keynotes were extra memorable because Oracle's Larry Ellison actually showed up and made several ridiculous and outlandish comments. I expected something similarly fun (and funny) this year. Instead, Thomas Kurian's, senior vice president of Oracle's server technologies division, keynote, though more technologically focused, was just part and parcel with the rest of the mostly boring techno-marketing-hype keynotes. I guess I'll just have to better manage my expectations for next year. Even better, if Sun would put the keynote videos up on the Web sooner, I could sleep in and not miss anything important.

Hands-down best keynote

By far, Paul Saffo, from the Institute for the Future, gave the most interesting of all keynotes. The core of his talk centered around the notion that we're really in the Age of (Emergent) Media. Judging by the enthusiastic applause, apparently many audience members felt as I did. I don't want to slight his presentation by paraphrasing or excerpting it, so go directly to Sun's Website and view the Webcast!

Scariest push for ID smart cards

Rich Green's, Sun vice president and general manager of the Java and XML Platform, keynote pushed JavaCard-based identification solutions along with the Liberty Alliance. The video presentation was funny: Green disses a (bad) Bill Gates look-alike wearing a .Not T-shirt by choosing James Gosling over Gates to join him at a concert. But the video focused only on the seductive capabilities and skirted the very serious privacy issues attendant with any such systems.

Best embrace-and-extend play

In Monday's technical keynote, Sun talked a lot about Java's support for the full gamut of Web services. Sun used VisualStudio .Net to build a Web service client to a Java-based Web service. Now you can feel free to aggressively refute anybody who thinks that .Net will somehow cut Java out of the market. The more that (open) standards and implementations are available, the less of a stranglehold Microsoft can exert upon the world.

Best pun

"JavaWon" by Sun CEO Scott McNealy in talking about the battle of "Mankind Vs. the Monopolist."

Best hack on Bill Gates

Coming into the show, McNealy was the odds-on favorite in this category. His Tuesday keynote hack on Gates was shtick that poor Scott couldn't retire from Sun anytime soon because "I can't leave my kids to Ctrl-Alt-Del." (Yeah, like with most jokes, you had to be there.)

However, on Thursday night, Wayne Brady of Whose Line Is It Anyway? fame easily snagged the prize during his "gangsta rap" improvisation, based on a line from an audience member referring to "...going through the Bill Gates of Hell."

Best entertainer

Again, Brady. If you haven't seen him do his amazing musical improvisation, you should check out his show on Thursday nights (ABC) at 8 p.m. eastern/7 p.m. central. Alas, given this is a PG-rated magazine, I can't describe the most hilarious skits. However, I will say that I now have a whole new view of just what "package protection" means.

Given the crowd reaction, this was as big a hit as Dana Carvey's keynote all too many years ago.

Note to show organizers: Book a (good) comedian for every show! Hint: For next year's show, bring in the Blue Man Group!

Best gadget

The Sharp Zaurus PDA was this year's JavaOne gadget gimmick. The cost: US99 for the developer version (basically the same as the commercial version, but with 32MB RAM instead of 64MB); the original is US99. The device runs an embedded version of Linux and contains a PersonalJava JRE (Java Runtime Environment).

However, the particularly cool thing this year was that you could buy a wireless card for the PDA (US00) that would hook into the 802.11b network that Sun set up for the show. To wirelessly browse the Internet while sitting through boring sessions or wandering around the show floor was great.

The quick review: The Zaurus device and software are a bit rough, but a growing commercial and open source developer community currently exists around the device. As a result, the software for the device will certainly improve. The biggest issue is the limited amount of RAM, which makes running several applications simultaneously and/or any large memory footprint applications, ahem, problematic. The commercial version comes with an acceptable 64MB, but the device would kick butt with 256MB.

Worst queue management

In all too many previous JavaOne shows, this booby prize would go to the show organizers for being woefully inept in dealing with the huge crowds assembled for the opening keynotes. This year, the organizers opened the keynote at 9:30 a.m., giving everybody plenty of time to get in and seated. Well, that and the smaller number of attendees this year made this perennial problem basically a nonissue.

The booby prize this year goes to the folks running the Sharp Zaurus PDA sales booth. The lines on Monday and Tuesday were atrocious. Hello! McFly! Any attendee could tell you that the solution was obvious and simple: parallelism -- learn about it, live it. Another approach implemented too late was handing out tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis, so people could return later to buy a PDA. To think of how many attendees missed how many sessions because they were standing in line...What a waste.

Most refreshing change

Kudos to Sun for finally listening to past JavaOne feedback and making a good effort to refocus JavaOne as primarily a developer conference. They completely cut out the marketing track and added more technical sessions to the main show. The best technical sessions were still the nightly BoFs (Birds of a Feather sessions), but any reduction in the overall marketing-hype makes the whole world a better place.

Biggest waste of money

Helix is Sun's original JavaOne 2002 movie. Sun showed the first three installments at the JavaOne keynote sessions, and will run the remainder periodically over the next couple months on its Website. The movie is a cross between Mission Impossible 2, the Matrix, Back to the Future, and Tomb Raider.

My initial take on the movie: It's Sun's marketing ploy to show that it plays an integral part in a successful economic future because of the pervasiveness of Java-enabled gadgets. Perhaps I'm too cynical. An alternative view of the movie might be, during this time of (tech) layoffs and doom and gloom, Sun is taking a more optimistic stand. Check out the movie for yourself and let me know what you think.

Note to hackers: Sun is tying the movie in with a developer contest. The grand prize is a lifetime pass to all US JavaOne shows, a JavaOne jacket, immortalization on the java.sun.com Website, and an expense-paid trip to have dinner with Gosling. Check out the rules, tools, and so on at the Helix Website.

Best new job title

After Helix's first episode, McNealy called John Gage (the show's master of ceremonies and chief researcher and director of Sun's science office) the Chief Science Fiction Officer.

Best (and potentially horrifying) movie tie-in

Speaking of movies...Project Monty is a Sun-internal project researching ways to create smaller, faster Java runtimes for small, power-constrained devices, such as cell phones. I mention the project here because while the four presentation speakers were onstage, the song "Hot Stuff" cranked up, and the guys started to act out a scene from the movie The Full Monty. Luckily, they stopped after about 15 seconds. I was horrified and laughing my head off at the same time.

Best "mobility" quote

Lars Bak, one of the four Monty speakers, also gets a special mention for his description about working on mobile devices: "We work on things that you can throw against the wall." Everybody in the audience knew exactly what he was talking about. However, if you haven't worked on mobile devices, try it and you'll definitely get the joke.

Best announcement

The show announcement that I think matters most is the agreement in principle that the Apache Jakarta Project folks, led by Jason Hunter, have reached with Sun. The agreement changes the Java Specification Participation Agreement (JSPA) that governs participation in the Java Community Process (JCP). The changes move the JCP a big step forward, making it much more compatible with the open source movement. To be clear, Sun and the JCP still have a long way to go before they can call the JCP a truly open standardization process -- but this is a good step in the right direction.

Stuff to check out

Manageability is critical to the success of any enterprise system. JMX (Java Management Extensions) is becoming the basis for Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based manageability. JMX is already used in a small but growing number of systems, including the JBoss J2EE application server. Several JavaOne sessions covered JMX and/or manageability, so check them out and get ahead of the curve!

The latest crop of IDEs bundle numerous features, including the usual stuff like debuggers and code browsers, along with more advanced features, such as modeling tools, code generation, and refactoring support. Many high-end (read: expensive) IDEs are available, as are many affordable commercial tools, such as Borland JBuilder and IntelliJ IDEA (a must see!), and several good open source choices, such as Eclipse and NetBeans (see Resources for links).

Must reads

If you'll only read one Java book this year, then it should be Joshua Bloch's Effective Java Programming Language Guide. This is required reading for anyone who wants to be a good, effective Java developer.

If you'll read two books and you're doing multithreaded programming in Java (which is basically unavoidable in Java), then you should also read Doug Lea's Concurrent Programming in Java: Design Principles and Patterns, Second Edition. Also, stop writing basic thread-handling code yourself and start using Lea's util.concurrent library. Java Specification Request (JSR) 166, expected in Java 1.5, is based upon an updated version of the util.concurrent library.

Both Bloch and Lea presented at this year's show; you might want to check out their sessions too. But be sure to read their books; they both can really help everybody become better Java developers.

See you next year!

Well, that's all for this year. I had a great time and hope that all of you have a good programming year. See you in June 2003 when JavaOne returns to its regularly scheduled date. Until next time...

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