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Java has since made a lot of progress by way of the Java Foundation Classes (JFC), mainly the Swing APIs. However, while the latest demos of Swing-based applications are impressive, Swing still seems to fall short, considering how far proprietary GUI systems have advanced.
The key problems are:
While some of the problems with Swing are related to the challenging task of providing a cross-platform GUI, I have always wondered how much of it is related to Sun's roots in Unix.
Most people know that Unix is a command-line-oriented operating system. Unix developers and administrators love the command line! From shell scripting to regular expressions to piping commands, you just can't convince them that the common features of modern GUI systems, such as drag and drop or copy and paste, make a lot of sense. This is probably because most GUI applications on Unix-based systems have not traditionally followed consistent design guidelines. It is a shame that Unix GUIs did not become more prevalent, given the power of systems like X Window and the fact that they had a head start on Microsoft Windows.
I have had the unique pleasure of mastering regular expressions, dozens of Unix utilities, and complex shell scripting using shell and Perl, while doing GUI development on both the X Window System and Microsoft Windows. The one thing I have come to admire about Microsoft Windows is the consistency of most of its applications. Things like cut, copy and paste, standard accelerator keys (e.g. Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-X), and standard menus are present in most Windows applications. Further, most Windows applications appear to follow a standard look and feel (although I have seen my share of ugly Windows 3.x applications). Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Java-based applications. Even the Java-based GUI applications developed by Sun and bundled with the Java Developer Kit (JDK) look so horrible that it is a major turnoff when you try to use them. Did Java become so popular on the server because of the command-line nature of server-side applications?
Other questions in my mind are:
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