Thursday Oct 04, 2012

"Yes, but that's niche."

JavaOne 2012 has come to an end though it feels like it hasn't even started yet! What happened, time is a weird thing.

Too many things to report on. James Gosling's appearance at the JavaOne community keynote was seen, by everyone (which is quite a lot) of people I talked to, as the highlight of the conference. It was interesting that the software for the Duke's Choice Award winning Liquid Robotics that James Gosling is now part of and came to talk about is a Swing application that uses the WorldWind libraries. It was also interesting that James Gosling pointed out to the conference: "There are things you can't do using HTML."

That brings me to the wonderful counter argument to the above, which I spend my time running into a lot: "Yes, but that's niche." It's a killer argument, i.e., it kills all discussions completely in one fell swoop. Kind of when you're talking about someone and then this sentence drops into the conversation: "Yes, but she's got cancer now."

Here's one implementation of "Yes, but that's niche":

  • Person A: All applications are moving to the web, tablet, and mobile phone. That's especially true now with HTML5, which is going to wipe away everything everywhere and all applications are going to be browser based.

  • Person B: What about air traffic control applications? Will they run on mobile phones too? And do you see defence applications running in a browser? Don't you agree that there are multiple scenarios imaginable where the Java desktop is the optimal platform for running applications?

  • Person A: Yes, but that's niche.

Here's another implementation, though it contradicts the above [despite often being used by the same people], since JavaFX is a Java desktop technology:

  • Person A: Swing is dead. Everyone is going to be using purely JavaFX and nothing else.

  • Person B: Does JavaFX have a docking framework and a module system? Does it have a plugin system?  These are some of the absolutely basic requirements of Java desktop software once you get to high end systems, e.g., banks, defence force, oil/gas services. Those kinds of applications need a web browser and so they love the JavaFX WebView component and they also love the animated JavaFX charting components. But they need so much more than that, i.e., an application framework. Aren't there requirements that JavaFX isn't meeting since it is a UI toolkit, just like Swing is a UI toolkit, and what they have in common is their lack, i.e., natively, of any kind of application framework? Don't people need more than a single window and a monolithic application structure?

  • Person A: Yes, but that's niche.

In other words, anything that doesn't fit within the currently dominant philosophy is "niche", for no other reason than that it doesn't fit within the currently dominant philosophy... regardless of the actual needs of real developers. Saying "Yes, but that's niche", kills the discussion completely, because it relegates one side of the conversation to the arcane and irrelevant corners of the universe. You're kind of like Cobol now, or something like a wacky cartoon character at a party for grown ups, as soon as "Yes, but that's niche" is said. What's worst about "Yes, but that's niche" is that it doesn't enter into any discussion about user requirements, i.e., there's so few that need this particular solution that we don't even need to talk about them anymore.

Note, of course, that I'm not referring specifically or generically to anyone or anything in particular. Just picking up from conversations I've picked up on as I was scurrying around the Hilton's corridors while looking for the location of my next presentation over the past few days. It does, however, mean that there were people thinking "Yes, but that's niche" while listening to James Gosling pointing out that HTML is not the be-all and end-all of absolutely everything.

And so this all leaves me wondering: How many applications must be part of a niche for the niche to no longer be a niche? And what if there are multiple small niches that have the same requirements? Don't all those small niches together form a larger whole, one that should be taken seriously, i.e., a whole that is not a niche?


Geertjan Wielenga (@geertjanw) is a Principal Product Manager in the Oracle Developer Tools group living & working in Amsterdam. He is a Java technology enthusiast, evangelist, trainer, speaker, and writer. He blogs here daily.

The focus of this blog is mostly on NetBeans (a development tool primarily for Java programmers), with an occasional reference to NetBeans, and sometimes diverging to topics relating to NetBeans. And then there are days when NetBeans is mentioned, just for a change.


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