What is Happening vs. What is Interesting
By Geertjan on Nov 21, 2011
Devoxx 2011 was yet another confirmation that all development everywhere is either on the web or on mobile phones. Whether you looked at the conference schedule or attended sessions or talked to speakers at any point at all, it was very clear that no development whatsoever is done anymore on the desktop.
In fact, that's something Tim Bray himself told me to my face at the speakers dinner. No new developments of any kind are happening on the desktop. Everyone who is currently on the desktop is working overtime to move all of their applications to the web. They're probably also creating a small subset of their application on an Android tablet, with an even smaller subset on their Android phone.
Then you scratch that monolithic surface and find some interesting results. Without naming any names, I asked one of these prominent "ah, forget about the desktop" people at the Devoxx speakers dinner (and I have a witness): "Yes, the desktop is dead, but what about air traffic control, stock trading, oil analysis, risk management applications? In fact, what about any back office application that needs to be usable across all operating systems? Here there is no concern whatsoever with 100% accessibility which is, after all, the only thing that the web has over the desktop, (except when there's a network failure, of course, or when you find yourself in the 3/4 of the world where there's bandwidth problems)? There are 1000's of hidden applications out there that have processing requirements, security requirements, and the requirement that they'll be available even when the network is down or even completely unavailable. Isn't that a valid use case and aren't there 1000's of applications that fall into this so-called niche category? Are you not, in fact, confusing consumer applications, which are increasingly web-based and mobile-based, with high-end corporate applications, which typically need to do massive processing, of one kind or another, for which the web and mobile worlds are completely unsuited?"
And you will not believe what the reply to the above question was. (Again, I have a witness to this discussion.)
But here it is: "Yes. But those applications are not interesting. I do not want to spend any of my time or work in any way on those applications. They are boring."
I'm sad to say that the leaders of the software development community, including those in the Java world, either share the above opinion or are led by it. Because they find something that is not new to be boring, they move on to what is interesting and start talking like the supposedly-boring developments don't even exist. (Kind of like a rapper pretending classical music doesn't exist.) Time and time again I find myself giving Java desktop development courses (at companies, i.e., not hobbyists, or students, but companies, i.e., the places where dollars are earned), where developers say to me: "The course you're giving about creating cross-platform, loosely coupled, and highly cohesive applications is really useful to us. Why do we never find information about this mission-critical corporate enterprise topic at conferences? Why can we never attend a session at a conference where the story about pluggable cross-platform Java is told? Why do we get the impression that we are uncool because we're not on the web and because we're not on a mobile phone, while the reason for that is because we're creating $1000,000 simulation software which has nothing to gain from being on the web or on the mobile phone?"
And then I say: "Because nobody knows you exist. Because you're not submitting abstracts to conferences about your very interesting use cases. And because conferences tend to focus on what is new, which tends to be web related (especially HTML 5) or mobile related (especially Android). Because you're not taking the responsibility on yourself to tell the real stories about the real applications being developed all the time and every day. Because you yourself think your work is boring, while in fact it is fascinating. Because desktop developers are working from 9 to 5 on the desktop, in secure environments, such as banks and defense, where you can't spend time, nor have the interest in, blogging your latest tip or trick, as opposed to web developers, who tend to spend a lot of time on the web anyway and are therefore much more inclined to create buzz about the kind of work they're doing."
So, next time you look at a conference program and wonder why there's no stories about large desktop development projects in the program, here's the short answer: "No one is going to put those items on the program until you start submitting those kinds of sessions. And until you start blogging. Until you start creating the buzz that the web developers have been creating around their work for the past 10 years or so. And, yes, indeed, programmers get the conference they deserve."
And what about Tim Bray? Ask yourself, as Google's lead web technology evangelist, how many desktop developers do you think he talks to and, more generally, what his frame of reference is and what, clearly, he considers to be most interesting.