A sneak peak at Sun

SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems Inc. is taking a different approach, compared to its rivals, towards offering a rich Internet applications platform geared for the designer.

Web designers can currently use tools like Microsoft Expression and Adobe Creative Suite, but Sun said it will also offer a designer tool, albeit in an approach that’s phased and reflects a “different strength”, said Param Singh, senior director of JavaFX at Sun.

Sun’s approach, said Singh, is to first start with delivering tools so the developer can continue building in a familiar environment, like an Integrated Developer Environment (IDE), and yet be able to integrate content from the designer counterpart. “We want to empower our current audience today, extend that, and then continue to work towards that,” Singh said at a media roundtable at the JavaOne conference.

However, when pressed for a timeline, Singh said the roadmap will come later and that “we are just saying we understand the requirements of the designer.”

Sun is coming “from a different point in the spectrum” compared to Microsoft and Adobe with its incremental approach and strong developer focus, he said, adding that “different vendors have different strengths in different areas.”

Singh noted that while its RIA rivals have strengths on the design side, “what their problem is, is really getting it to work with developers.”

In fact, he doesn’t believe there is a client platform that covers the full spectrum from graphic designer to rich content creator to scripter to developer. “Whoever delivers that overall experience will be a platform that people will adopt. So that’s our vision.”

Singh isn’t concerned that designers might have their own set of familiar and comfortable tools and environments at the potential expense of the adoption of the JavaFX platform. The market trend, he explained, is such that traditionally-segregated sides want to collaborate and “Java developers want to work with designers and designers want the backend services accessible to them.”

Calgary, Alta-based ICEsoft Technologies Inc., a provider of Java-based Web development software for enterprises, was an exhibitor at the conference pavilion. The company’s senior software architect, Ted Goddard, said Sun’s vision of an end-to-end platform for all aspects of RIA development sounds like a good thing, but he does caution that developers and designers tend to work on very different things.

“In one case, the developers are mostly concerned with the logic of the application and designers are concerned with how it looks. And conceptually, those are really different,” said Goddard.

The important thing, he added, is to create an environment where all parties can work on their respective areas “without stepping on each others toes and being stretched out of their comfort region.”

Goddard said that the Java platform already does offer technologies that provide a clean separation between developer and designer tasks. JavaServer Faces, for instance, lets the developer work on the model in JavaBeans and the designer work on the markup with a tool like Adobe Dreamweaver. And although Dreamweaver is an Adobe tool, he said the setup nonetheless let’s people use familiar platforms and “everyone is ultimately working on a Java application making it an even more powerful team.”

Designers perhaps need to be better aware of capabilities within the Java community system, said Goddard, adding that many of them are probably focused on the PHP scripting language, for instance, because it’s “similar to what they’ve already been doing and they know other designers who are using PHP.”

On the fact that Singh had no roadmap to share, Goddard said he thinks Sun will lend an ear to users and eventually develop tools that are useful for them.

In fact, he thinks the Java language is much better for building RIAs given the solid base. All that’s really required for better collaboration, he said, is to incorporate the multimedia capabilities that already exist with certain Java tools. “It’s really a matter of integrating those existing multimedia technologies on top of this really strong Java base.”