Sun Enters RIA Fray with JavaFX

JavaFX, new from Sun Microsystems Inc., adds Java-based tools to the growing rich Internet application space.

Sun Microsystems Inc. joined Microsoft on an increasingly crowded playing field when it unveiled a new product line last month at its annual JavaOne developer conference in San Francisco. Called JavaFX, the new collection of Java-based solutions is aimed at developers eager to satisfy growing demand for rich Internet applications (RIAs).

Microsoft unveiled its Silverlight RIA plug-in in April at the MIX 07 conference in Las Vegas. The company is characterizing Silverlight as a .NET, cross-browser, cross-platform runtime designed to enable media and interactive content and application scenarios.

Meanwhile, Adobe Systems Inc. is touting Apollo, a cross-operating system runtime the company is creating for developers who need to leverage their existing Web dev skills (such as with Adobe's own Flash, HTML, JavaScript and AJAX) to build and deploy RIAs to the desktop.

Platform War
Why the sudden surge into the RIA space? The platform and system vendors need to maintain their footprint in the spreading swarm of client devices, says industry analyst Ray Valdes, research director in Gartner Inc.'s Internet platforms and Web services group.

"There's kind of a platform war being waged right now on multiple fronts," Valdes tells RDN. "One [front] is inside the browser, where Flash once held unquestioned dominance -- 97 percent penetration of more than 400 million browsers worldwide today. Then Microsoft hits the market with a one-two punch: the Silverlight 1.0 beta, followed by the Silverlight 1.1 alpha in a matter of weeks. The Flash market dominance is no longer certain."

Gartner predicts that IT managers and enterprises will have to deal with fragmented platforms for rich media within browsers for some time. There's also the competition outside the browser, Valdes says, where Microsoft has a long-standing presence. Microsoft's strength here is tooling: The company is aligning its Expression toolset with Silverlight.

Rising Sun
Silverlight will help .NET developers create RIA apps, says Forrester Research Inc.'s Jeffrey Hammond, senior analyst in application development and program management. However, Sun has a leg up in the enterprise. Also, part of Sun's JavaFX package is a new scripting language called JavaFX Script, which is designed to address the difficulty of writing Java code.

"With JavaFX, [developers] won't have to learn new technology platforms like AJAX, Silverlight or Flash-Flex," Hammond says. "On the other hand, Sun does need to ship the product, and provide an intuitive design and development environment."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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