JavaOne 2009 - A Retrospective

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JavaOne 2009 - A Retrospective

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Walking out of the Moscone Center into the early evening air of San Francisco, it was hard to believe that JavaOne 2009 was over. Sure I'd spent four long days with little sleep, but there was so much going on for most of the time that it just didn't feel like four days — and I think that's part of what I love about the JavaOne conferences. They're packed with announcements about new and intriguing product and projects, technical sessions from the creators of frameworks and libraries you use daily, and so many people passionate about software development that you can't help but smile at hearing your own thoughts and feelings echoed in other people's voices.

This year's conference started with a look at Java's history, and it got me thinking about my history with the JavaOne conference. My first one was in 2001 and it was a bit overwhelming; there were so many people attending (something like 17,000) that the stage was set up in a theater-in-the-round sort of style and the speakers had to turn around every so often so they didn't have their backs to the audience the whole time. This year seemed much smaller, the audience was on one side and sections of chairs were taped off and left empty.

There's less of JavaOne than there used to be. In 2001 the conference ran all week long, from Monday to Friday. While I like the CommunityOne conference, and have attended all three years, spending five days surrounded by all things Java was wonderful. In 2007 "fireside chat" which provided JavaOne alumni the opportunity to ask questions from people like James Gosling, John Gage, Rob Gingell, and Rich Green, was discontinued. This year the alumni lounge, a quiet place for alumni to check their email, have conversations, or just decompress for a few minutes by watching a cool movie, was discontinued. I don't know they why of any of it, but I think it does affect how people feel about the conference.

I know that small things like the quality of the backpacks, or the lack of a pen and notepad in them, has been noticed and commented upon.

Despite all that, I think that JavaOne is still the most important Java developer conference out there because it's where people from around the planet gather to hear what's happening in the Java universe. We gather to find out what Sun has planned for the future and what they've completed in the last year. We gather to find out what others like us are thinking and doing; how they solved similar problems and what they think are the interesting new technologies, frameworks, languages, etc. It gives us a chance to get together with like-minded folk and "recharge our batteries".

Sun talks about the Java community and in my mind, JavaOne is a key part of that community. It's like a family reunion, and I know I'm not the only one who looks forward to it every year. I'm hoping that Sun continues the tradition whether they're bought by Oracle or not. It's important for family to get together every so often.

OK, now you know how I feel about the JavaOne conference in general. What made this JavaOne special?

I've been to JavaOne seven times, the first five times were as an attendee; my goal was to learn as much as I could about the new technologies being introduced, picking up pointers on things we were already using, meeting other developers who shared my passion for software design and development, and maybe meeting some of the "rock stars" of the Java world.

Last year I submitted a session to the call for papers and got accepted. For most of the conference, my goals were the same as in previous years, with the added the excitement of presenting my thoughts and ideas to hundreds of my peers from around the world. Being in the Speaker's room was like peeking behind the curtains at a magic show, and I found out that it's fairly common for speakers to be editing their slides until just a few minutes before their session.

This year I got to attend as a reporter for DZone. (Thanks, Nitin!) As a reporter, I didn't have access to the Speaker's room, but I did spend a bit of time in the Press room where people who have been reporting on Java and JavaOne for thirteen or fourteen years wrote up their articles and shared their beliefs on what to expect in the future. Listening to their analysis was like looking at the conference through a one-way mirror, or a microscope. These people weren't here because they wanted to know more about Java, or software development, they were here to look at what was going on and objectively report on it. Even so, there were passionate discussions about the future of Java and JavaOne, and I'm sure you've probably read a few already.

This year was interesting in many ways. Even before the conference I was wondering about the future of JavaOne a bit, mostly because they extended the deadline for the early bird discount from the first of May until the day before the conference. It seemed obvious that Sun wasn't getting the kind of registration numbers they had expected. I expect a good bit of that was due to the global economy, and some of it may have been due to the swine flu (I heard that some countries have posted travel warnings about coming to the US), but I suspect that some of it was been due to concern over Sun's future. For many of the last fourteen years, I've heard manager wonder aloud if Sun was going to go under, as if the Java code we were running would suddenly stop if it did. This year, some of those concerns about Sun's had to be strengthened by IBM's failed bid to buy Sun and the agreement with Oracle just a few weeks later.

The first keynote started with a look at the last fourteen years of Java, and several times during the session, I felt like people were looking back and saying goodbye rather than looking forward and saying, "Let's go!" It was interesting to hear Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy talking about the possible future of Sun and Java, and I was heartened to hear that Mr. Ellison thinks they need to do more with javaFX; though, like many, I'm not sure how serious he was about it.

I went to a number of sessions where JavaFX was the main focus, and I believe that JavaFX has the potential to be a player in the RIA market as well as being a better way to create better user experiences. The engineers, graphical and interaction designers I heard from during the sessions and spoke with afterward are bright, talented people who seem dedicated to doing everything in their power to make JavaFX a success. I started to recognize some of the other attendees, and I feel it's safe to say there is a strong, growing, community around JavaFX.

It was good to see "Click and Hack, the Type-it brothers," also known as Josh Bloch and Neal Gafter, back on stage with another set of Java Puzzlers to bend our brains with seemingly simple Java code that just doesn't behave properly.

I also enjoyed Ben Galbraith's talk on "Creating Compelling User Experiences," which came as a bit of a surprise to me since I was unhappy with last year's talk because he made the statement that you need to hire a visual designer if you want to create a compelling user experience. This year's talk covered some of the same material as last year, but it felt different. Ben did talk about visual and interactive design, but stopped short of saying that engineers (developers) couldn't succeed at creating great user experiences without hiring a professional designer.

I also attended some sessions on JVM based languages like Groovy, Scala, and JavaFX. After seeing how people are leveraging the power of the JVM with new languages, and by building frameworks for them like Grails and Lift, I have to believe that even if Java somehow stops growing and evolving there is plenty of innovation going on and the JVM will be a viable development platform for years to some.

On the downside, I must admit that there were several sessions I walked out on. Sometimes the content seemed too basic, other times the speaker just didn't hold my attention. However, I've found this to be true at nearly every conference I've been to, so maybe it's just me.

Wrapping up, I want to say, "Thank you!" to DZone for the opportunity to be a reporter for a week. I also owe a big  debt of gratitude LiveScribe for saving my hand, if not my career. To find out more, keep an eye out for a product review I'll be posting in the next few days.

Burk Hufnagel, reporting for DZone

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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