Zander: Java gets better with age

Java developers want respect, and the company that brought the universal language to the fray five years ago says it now has the partners, the applications and the developer community to demand esteem.

Ed Zander, Sun Microsystems Inc.’s president and chief operating officer, made a strong case for a future Internet where devices of all kinds will communicate with each other based on Java technology. While touting the merits, and respectability, of Java, Zander downplayed efforts by rival Microsoft Corp. as he kicked off the JavaOne worldwide developers’ conference that opened in San Francisco Monday.

Microsoft’s attempts to win credit for shaping the future Internet with its Hailstorm, Passport and its .Net initiative is a reaction to Sun’s role in the concept of an always-on Internet. In fact, it was five years ago at the first JavaOne show when Zander delivered the keynote in which Java was first unveiled. Since then, it has grown beyond the PC to include development tools for wireless devices and servers.

“We’ve truly done something here that will go down in history books as a great adventure,” Zander said.

Tied closely to the success of the adventure has been the number of application developers, wireless device makers and service providers that have signed on to Java. Zander detailed a number of announcements Monday based on Java technology, including devices from Sony Entertainment Corp.’s PlayStation 2 video game console to mobile phones to a smartcard.

“I don’t think when we look back years from now we will ever see something again as ubiquitous as Java,” Zander said. “I can’t remember an architecture that has scaled so pervasively.”

Amid a high-profile cheerleading effort to market Java as the most successful developers’ language for creating the next generation of services and applications through the Internet – loosely defined here as Web services – Sun and others vendors building devices and applications with Java technology offered several major announcements during Zander’s keynote talk.

Sun and six partners launched the Wireless Developer Connection Program (WDCP), which will link developers to tools and services for building Java-based applications for small devices such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and mobile phones. The program, expected to speed development of applications built with J2ME (Java2 Micro Edition) is backed by Motorola Inc., Nextel Communications Inc., OpenWave Systems Inc., Nokia Corp., Siemens AG, Vodafone Group PLC and Symbian Ltd.

Sony also announced Monday that it will include Sun’s J2ME technology in its PlayStation 2 video game console to give video game developers more tools to work on broadband applications. Sony Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Shin’ichi Okamoto demonstrated the first Java-based application that will run on the system — a chatroom application that allows users to communicate with anyone running the chat program on a Java-enabled device.

“Sony’s goal is (to build an) open and secure environment,” Okamoto said, appearing on stage with Zander. ” I believe Java technology is the best for that.”

The mobile phone also played a big role during the speech. Presentations with new Java-enabled phones demonstrated how the programming language could be used to build applications that send digital files and access information from backend systems.

Japan’s second largest carrier, J-Phone Communications Co. Ltd., revealed plans to launch a handset at the end of the month based on J2ME technology that includes a built-in digital camera, a color display and a 3D graphics engine that allows images to appear with a 360-degree view.

Attendees gave a warm reception to the range of announcements made soon after the show kicked off.

“(Java) is the standard for the Internet,” said Greg Pavlik, a software developer at Hewlett-Packard Co. “It’s unbelievable.”

Jussi Jutila, IT strategist and architect for Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, agreed. “Java seems to be everywhere,” he said, after witnessing the demonstrations during Monday’s keynote. “There are a lot of business opportunities when everything is on the same platform.”

But despite its momentum among the 20,000 attendees at this year’s JavaOne, it is clear the company is feeling pressure from Microsoft, which has made particular progress delivering the concept of a Web-based environment for deploying software and services with its .Net initiative.

“Sun was late to jump on the Web services bandwagon,” said Craig Roth, an analyst with the Meta Group Inc.

To be sure, there are skeptics – who in part drive Java developers’ desire for more respect. And regardless of having created Java, Sun has been a late entrant into Web services. Even so, statistics on the number of users and applications built using the programming language point to successful marriage of Web services with Java technology. More than 400 companies, 750 user groups and nearly 2.5 million developers build applications based on Java.

“I have become a little bit dismayed reading the press,” Zander said, referring to its coverage of Microsoft’s .Net in the past few months. “Maybe (Java) has become so successful that it’s becoming boring.”

With just about 100 hours of demonstrations to go before JavaOne moves out of its conference halls – similar to Java’s debut here in 1996 – the 1,900 companies showing their applications are likely to add some excitement.

“It’s 1996 all over again,” Zander said.

Sun, based in Palo Alto, Calif. can be reached at