Developers should focus on hospitals and schools: McNealy

Sun Microsystems Inc.’s CEO Scott McNealy challenges Java developers to help bridge the digital divide in the education and health care sectors. It’s a quest that one Canadian IT firm seems to have taken up already.

During his keynote speech yesterday at JavaOne, Sun’s conference for Java developers being held June 26 to 30 in San Francisco, McNealy said it’s up to the Java programming community to aid the IT situations of schools and hospitals the world over.

Schools often face IT budget crunches but they’re charged with providing a high-quality educational experience for students. “There’s no money for schools to buy applications,” McNealy said.

Developers could help by creating Internet apps based on the Java standard. With Java as the apps’ accessible substructure, perhaps schools could leverage the collective intellectual property of Java programming pros to build upon or create from scratch software that answers the educator’s need for current teaching content that doesn’t cost the moon.

McNealy referenced the Global Education Learning Community (GELC), a Sun-sponsored organization dedicated to providing free learning materials to teachers online.

“Imagine…an open sourced textbook,” McNealy said. “Having it online means it’s free and available to every student.” He noted that on average, textbooks costs $1,000 per year, per student, thanks in part to textbook publishers presenting new editions that vary from their predecessors by just one or two sentences.

Kevin Ellis is manager, GUI at Maplesoft, a mathematics-software creator in Waterloo, Ont. As far as he’s concerned, McNealy’s on the right track.

“There are a lot of things you can do with software that you can’t do with a text book. For example, a picture can say a thousand words, but animation can say even more than a static picture. One thing Maplesoft has in its core product (“Maple 10”) is a number of tutors that contain animations or interactive step-by-step solutions. It walks the student through. They can make mistakes, undo, and really figure out what’s going on. You don’t get the same feedback from a textbook.”

Success, however, is a matter of marrying rich applications with low-end computers. “Academics are not as quick to update computer hardware,” Ellis said. “That’s always a challenge: how do you operate on an earlier-generation machine rather than focusing on state-of-the-art platforms? That’s one we’ve really been working on.”

Health care institutions need technology to become more efficient, McNealy said. “I don’t think there’s any industry more screwed up than the IT industry except maybe health care, which kills everyone eventually.” He pointed out that diagnostic mistakes cause millions of deaths each year and US$300 billion flowing into health care systems yield no benefits for patients.

“We have to, as an industry, help solve this problem,” McNealy said. Sun showcased the Brazilian National Health System, which is using Java applications to improve patient scheduling. According to the organization’s CTO, patients are able to book appointments with doctors much quicker now than they were before, thanks in part to the new scheduling system.

In other Sun news, the company announced yesterday that it would acquire SeeBeyond Technology Corp., a middleware provider, for US$387 million. Should the deal go through as planned, SeeBeyond’s Integrated Composite Application Network (ICAN) for integration will come to be known as the Sun Java System Integration Suite down the line.

Sun’s executives said SeeBeyond’s technology would play a vital role in Sun’s service-oriented architecture (SOA) platform, which is a popular topic. According to John Gage, Sun’s chief researcher, the most-attended technical session at JavaOne as of yesterday morning was all about Java Business Integration (JBI), the Web services integration spec.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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