Saturday, May 28, 2011

JavaFX 2 Beta: Time to Reevaluate JavaFX?

JavaFX 2 beta was released earlier this week. The main JavaFX download page states the following regarding this release:
JavaFX 2.0 Beta is the latest major update release for JavaFX. Many of the new features introduced in JavaFX 2.0 Beta are incompatible with JavaFX 1.3. If you are developing a new application in JavaFX, it is recommended that you start with JavaFX 2.0 Beta.

I posted O JavaFx, What Are Thou? a year ago. Much has changed in JavaFX since then. Most notable of these changes were the JavaOne 2010 announcements related to JavaFX's direction. As I blogged about at JavaOne 2010, I thought Oracle's plans to move to a standard Java API for JavaFX to replace a separate and highly unrelated F3-based JavaFX Script language was the correct decision for any possibility of long-term and wide-spread adoption of the technology. Although a small minority of developers really like JavaFX Script, that direction did not seem to appeal to the vast majority. The good news for those who want to continue using JavaFX Script is the spawning of Visage. I was excited about Oracle's new announced direction for JavaFX, but we all knew that we needed to wait to see if Oracle would deliver.

With the announcement regarding JavaFX 2 beta, a natural question is, "Is it time to reconsider JavaFX?" My previously mentioned post O JavaFX, What Art Thou? brought up several of the issues that concerned developers considering adoption of JavaFX. Most of this post asks those questions again in light of JavaFX 2 beta.

Is JavaFX Java?

One of the questions in that post, "Is JavaFX Java?" seems to be answered somewhat (and more than before) in the affirmative. Because JavaFX 2 will support standard Java APIs, it will at least be "Java" in the sense that any third-party library like Hibernate or the Spring Framework is "Java." It still may not be Java in the sense that it's neither part of the Java SE specification or the Java EE specification.

Is JavaFX Standard?

I've seen nothing to indicate that JavaFX 2 will be any more "standard" than previous versions. As far as I can tell, JavaFX remains a product with no standard specification and only a single implementation (Oracle's). There are no specifications that others might implement.

Is JavaFX Open Source?

This is another question that probably won't be fully answered until JavaFX 2 is formally released in production version. My best guess is that it will consist of a similar mixture of licenses (some open source) as earlier versions did.

What is JavaFX's license?

This is one more question to add to the list of questions to ask again with the formal release of JavaFX 2 non-beta release. My best guess, similar to my guess regarding its open source status, is that JavaFX's licenses will remain somewhat similar to those for previous versions of JavaFX. I also expect JavaFX licensing to follow the Flex/Flash licensing model with the compiler and language tools tending to be open source and the runtime tending to be proprietary.

The Oracle Early Technology Adopter License Terms seem to apply for the beta release. The Charles Humble interview of Richard Bair in JavaFX 2.0 Will Bring Hardware Accelerated Graphics and Better Licensing Terms to the Platform includes brief mention of licensing plans. Regarding licensing of the JavaFX runtime, Bair states, "The JavaFX license is expected to be consistent with the JRE license, which allows such distribution under specific conditions."

How is JavaFX's Deployment?

Although I believe that one of the largest drawbacks of JavaFX adoption in the past was the need to learn another non-Java language in JavaFX Script, there is no question that issues with the deployment model competed for most important disadvantage of JavaFX. Max Katz has stated, "I think JavaFX failed to gain any significant momentum mainly because of deployment problems." He discussed these deployment problems in a separate post.

The crux of the problem with JavaFX deployment seemed to revolve around its applet foundation. In the previously mentioned Max Katz post, he stated:
As the mantra in real estate is: location, location, location. The mantra in JavaFX is: deployment, deployment, deployment. Unfortunately, this is where JavaFX has failed miserably. The original Java applets failed miserably in deployment and JavaFX (which was supposed to be the next applet technology or applets 2.0) has inherited the failed deployment with it. In other words, nothing has really changed since 1995.

Although the "Next Generation in Applet Java Plug-in Technology" did bring improvements to the applet deployment environment, it simply wasn't enough. Developers were widely unhappy about its performance and usability when compared to environments such as Flash, HTML/JavaScript, and Silverlight. Unfortunately, it may be too late to salvage the applet at this point.

Oracle appears to be addressing the deployment issue in JavaFX 2. In Deploying JavaFX Applications, Nancy Hildebrandt writes about "three basic types of [JavaFX] application deployment": the maligned applet, Web Start, and standalone desktop. I'm particularly excited about the non-browser deployment environments.

In her article, Hildebrandt talks about JavaFX 2 Beta Deployment Features that are specific to each deployment environment (improvements for applet/browser and Web Start environments) as well as general deployment features. I particularly like two of these general deployment features that are highly related:
  • "The same JavaFX source code works for applets, Web Start applications, and standalone desktop applications."
  • "The same JavaFX JAR file can be deployed as an applet, a Web Start application, or a standalone application."

Is It Time to Revisit JavaFX?

Since my initial significant disappointment with JavaFX since the now infamous 2007 JavaOne announcement, I have been a skeptic of JavaFX's future. Beginning with the JavaOne 2010 opening keynote announcement regarding Oracle's change of direction for JavaFX, I have begun to think that JavaFX has an outside chance at a real future in application development. Oracle does seem to be delivering on their announced plans. If they continue to do so, JavaFX is likely to be a more compelling choice than it's ever been.

My previous concerns regarding JavaFX all involved a common theme: it had nothing to really distinguish itself from a host of more mature products with wider communities and support. Because JavaFX had its own language in JavaFX Script, it really was no "easier" for a Java developer to learn than Flex/MXML/ActionScript. Flash and Silverlight are proprietary, but so is the JavaFX runtime. JavaFX was (and is) no more standards-based than any of the competitors. Flash and Silverlight have also boasted better runtime experiences than JavaFX. HTML5 is a recent entry to provide formidable competition for JavaFX.

Oracle appears to be changing JavaFX to distinguish itself better from other technologies. By allowing for standard Java APIs and for non-browser JavaFX applications, JavaFX becomes more attractive to the massive Java developer base. JavaFX will have the most difficulty competing in the browser space with Flex/Flash, Silverlight, and HTML5 already entrenching themselves there. However, I think JavaFX can find some success in the Web Start and standalone desktop environments against tools like Adobe AIR. AIR has been aimed at Flex developers who wish to developer desktop applications. JavaFX may just reintroduce the Java advantage of the same code/same JAR being able to run in the browser or on the desktop.

Because I have a lot on my plate already (starting to really use PHP for instance), I'll probably monitor others' reports of their use of JavaFX 2 beta in blog posts and other online forums. Assuming more good reports than bad, I hope to start trying JavaFX out for myself between now and JavaOne 2011 (where I expect to see heavy emphasis on JavaFX coupled with releases and other news).

Although lack of time is my biggest reason for not starting to use JavaFX 2 beta today, there are other reasons that may keep some from starting to use JavaFX 2 beta immediately. First, it is not available for all of the major operating systems platforms. The JavaFX 2.0 Beta System Requirements page states which operating systems and web browsers are currently supported. In general, the supported operating systems are 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows (Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7). Although Safari and Opera are not explicitly listed as supported, recent versions of the three most popular web browsers are explicitly supported: Chrome, Firefox 3.6 and Firefox 4, and Internet Explorer 8. Many of us hope, of course, that JavaFX will ultimately be available not only for other desktop machines (Linux or Mac), but will be available for mobile devices. This can be seen in the comments on Richard Bair's post Is JavaFX 2.0 Cross Platform?

The JavaFX 2.0 Beta System Requirements page also states that JDK 6 Update 24 (perhaps better known for patching a significant security hole) or later is required. In addition, it points out that 32-bit JavaFX runtime and 32-bit JDK are supported on the Windows environments, even for 64-bit Windows versions.

The JavaOne 2010 opening keynote focused largely on continued inclusion of Prism in JavaFX 2 and other desktop Java technologies. The JavaFX 2.0 Beta System Requirements page states which graphics cards are known to be support Prism. JavaFX will work without these graphics cards, but the Java 2D pipeline is used instead of Prism in such cases.


Oracle's JavaOne 2010 plans for JavaFX and their recent release of JavaFX 2.0 beta have piqued my curiosity. Once I have a little more time and once a few of the wrinkles commonly associated with beta software have been ironed out, I do plan to reevaluate JavaFX. This could change based on others' documented experiences, but my current plan is to start using JavaFX in the near future and to definitely be somewhat more familiar with it in time for JavaOne 2011. I also expect there to be significant news and information on JavaFX 2 at JavaOne 2011.

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