Sun releases preview of JavaFX SDK

Developers will be able to get their hands on a preview SDK (software development kit) for JavaFX as of Thursday, marking Sun's entry into the RIA (rich Internet application) framework wars.

"Our strategy with JavaFX is that we're providing the presentation layer for Java," said Param Singh, senior director of Java marketing. Over time, JavaFX will enable programmers to develop applications that can be deployed across "multiple screens" -- i.e. mobile devices, browsers, desktops and TVs -- as well as reinvigorate existing Java programs with fresh front ends, according to Singh.

"In the enterprise, you will start getting the ability to take existing applications, add a rich client interface and then have the ability to deploy it on the Web or the desktop," Singh said.

Among the SDK preview release's features are the JavaFX compiler and runtime tools; 2-D graphic and media libraries; tutorials and documentation; the 6.1 version of the NetBeans IDE (integrated development environment) containing a JavaFX plug-in; and a tool code-named "Project Nile," which allows the import of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files to JavaFX programs.

However, support for features such as 3-D vector graphics and streaming video will apparently have to wait until a future release, as Simon Brocklehurst, CEO of the U.K. software development firm Psynixis, noted in a blog post.

The SDK has two sets of APIs (application programming interfaces), according to Singh. One is a common set, intended for building applications that run across platforms, and the other is for the desktop. However, the mobile runtime won't be out until early 2009. The TV runtime is scheduled to ship later in 2009, according to Sun's site.

Sun contends that developers can at least begin building and prototyping applications now with the common APIs.

As it progresses, JavaFX will bump elbows with a host of competing RIA frameworks for the hearts and minds of developers. Some observers have questioned whether Sun is too far behind its competitors, which include Microsoft and Adobe.

"Many Java developers have been using [Adobe's] Flex of late," said Michael Coté, an analyst with Redmonk. "That said, the Java community is very patient with stuff like this. Once JavaFX and related tools [are in general release], that'll be the test of the desire for the overall Java community. I don't think you can write it off just yet."

Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond said the reality is mixed.

Flex has been out for a while, and the company has had time to polish it, he noted. Meanwhile, Microsoft has made more modest strides with its Silverlight platform. "So, yeah, [Sun is] maybe a year behind Microsoft," he said. "But the feeling I get is that it's still early. Development shops haven't committed to a single platform at this point, so from that standpoint it's not too late."

"The nice thing is [that Sun has] got a huge body of [Java] developers to target," he noted. "From a technology perspective, clearly they are well-positioned. They have to execute."

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