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November 18 2011

Developer Week in Review: Adobe sends Flex to Apache

Although Turkey Day is less than week away, things have been distinctly Labor Day-ish around here, at least as far as the weather goes. Following the Halloween snowstorm, it's been mild and sunny, T-shirt weather.

Today is when my day job company does their annual Thanksgiving lunch, with all the fixings. So, before I become comatose from starch overdose, here's a look at the week that was.

Apache and Eclipse: The Salvation Army of software

FlexIt seems as if a week doesn't go by without a major donation of remaindered code to an open-source foundation. But even recent large donations, such as Oracle's donation of Hudson to Eclipse, are dwarfed by the announcement this week that Adobe is donating the entire Flex SDK to Apache.

Considering Adobe's announcement last week that it plans to drop mobile support for Flash in favor of HTML5, this isn't completely surprising. However, the speed with which Adobe is moving to divest itself of its Flash assets is somewhat breathtaking. By shedding Flex in this way, Adobe can concentrate on building its HTML5 portfolio without leaving existing Flex developers out in the cold.

Donating obsolete products to open source is a commendable effort, and one I wish more companies would undertake. Beyond allowing developers to tinker with the code and improve the product, it also can be a valuable teaching tool (either in a best-practices or bad-example function). Unfortunately, patent encumberment and corporate paranoia make it difficult to do.


This year, Thanksgiving dinner includes Raspberry Pi

Raspberry PiOne of the reasons that the Arduino has become such a popular Maker platform is that it's so cheap; if you hose one, you're only out $20 or $30. Unfortunately, they're also pretty primitive, both in terms of memory and how you have to code them. You can buy a Beagle board or similar kin, which can run Linux, but those are fairly expensive.

The Raspberry Pi is an attempt to create an affordable single-board that can run Linux and interface to consumer-level components. The organization building it just celebrated a milestone, finishing the final cut of the first-gen printed circuit board (PCB) design. This raises hopes that the single-board computer (SBC), with a price projected in the same range as Arduinos, may be available in the near future.

The Pi runs standard Linux ARM distributions, has a USB connector and HDMI out, and if it works as planned, should become the go-to board for homebrew hardware projects. The Arduino is a nice board, and it will continue to have an advantage for those who want pin-level I/O access. It shouldn't be hard to jigger up a cheap USB-based general purpose input/output (GPIO) breakout board, however, so this advantage is likely to be fleeting.

Skynet v0.1 is now operational

People hoping for the eventual enslavement of humanity by sentient machines got good news this week. Researchers at MIT reported the development of a chip that contained 400 neuron-analog circuits. Unlike digital switches, these new circuits mimic the ion channel mechanism that is found in the brain.

The MIT team claims that the work will lead to better understanding of brain processes and the development of prosthetics, but we here at DWIR know the real truth. We have photos of Siri entering the building through a back door, and a witness claims to have seen a large man with an Austrian accent in the vicinity, looking for a student named Sarah Connor. Claims that the Tech Square parking garage control system refused to open the gate for anyone named Dave are still being investigated.


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July 11 2011

JavaFX 2.0: Making RIA with Java

JavaFXAs far as Rich Internet Applications (RIA) are concerned, the major player for the last decade has been Flash, and its successor Flex. Silverlight has had its supporters as well, and HTML5 is moving the ball forward from AJAX and CSS. And then there's Java.

After a brief stint of popularity, Java applets fell out of style, and even sites that used Java in the back-end rarely used it on the client side. JavaFX, now in its second generation, is an attempt to bring Java back onto the client side, and Jim Weaver is a big fan. Founder of JMentor, Weaver thinks that JavaFX brings a rich programming environment to the client, he'll be talking about that at OSCON later this month. He recently clued us in on why he thinks JavaFX is such a strong contender.

Can you give us a short history and description of JavaFX?

Jim WeaverJim Weaver: JavaFX came out in 2007. It was created by a guy named Chris Oliver, and it was introduced as a way to be able to quickly and intuitively put together rich client Java user interfaces. Developers in general, and the industry in general, rejected JavaFX primarily because it was a new scripting language. They didn't want to learn a language, so it just didn't get the traction that it needed.

After Oracle acquired Sun, they took a different direction with JavaFX. They abandoned JavaFX Script, the scripting language for it, and made JavaFX a set of libraries, APIs and run time. You code it in pure Java or any Java domain-specific language. That's the focus now. The new version just got out of early access and into a very early beta in June, and it's starting to get some traction with developers trying it and using it for smaller applications.


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The argument could be made that with Flash/Flex so ubiquitous on browsers now, and HTML5 gathering steam, another RIA platform is redundant.

Jim Weaver: I have nothing bad to say about Flex. I think Flex has been a great rich-client environment, and they've done a great job with deployment of the run times, except for iPhone and iPad.

The reason why I don't use Flex is because it's not Java. It doesn't have the millions of Java classes that are available out there and the richness of the native Java APIs. You find yourself having to use some bridging technologies. So that's why I'm pushing for Java. But there's nothing wrong with Flex. Flex is great.

I do see a lot of advances in HTML5. I think there's a lot of misconceptions and expectations that need to be calibrated around what HTML5 is: rate of adoption, rate of compliance on different browsers, and that kind of thing. Fundamentally, you're still talking about trying to make browsers an application execution platform. You're still working with JavaScript and you're still trying to shoehorn some technologies.

The mix that I'm shooting for would combine HTML5 and rich-client Java in a number of ways: it would be rich-client Java, web-started, that contains JavaFX APIs for its richness on the client, with a scene graph that contains UI controls, effects, animations and transformations. JavaFX has an embedded web browser component that you can use as part of the scene graph, and it's adopting the HTML5 standard.

The other way of doing it would be the exact opposite, where you have a browser and it's got an app that has JavaFX. I don't like that as well because then you depend on the browser for your JVM and your Java execution environment.



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