Executable Web Deja Vu

George Colony spoke in yesterday morning's Omniture Summit 09 keynote, and one of his eight big messages for CEOs was that the web is moving to what he calls "the executable web," meaning that instead of your browser being just a file viewer, it will become an application platform for applications downloaded off the web. Gee. That sounds kinda familiar... like from about a decade ago! Applets anyone? It really ticks me off that "Java™ is dead" while at the same time, everyone is busily trying to recreate Java in JavaScript. Hey, I know! Why not just fragging use Java? JavaScript is ugly and painful. AJAX is an order of magnitude worse. (Don't tell me about how much better Python and Ruby are than Java. That's a different topic.) I know that Sun is notorious for being way too early to the market with its technologies. Yes, applets did suck ten years ago. (Although, ten years ago there wasn't an alternative for RIAs, so at the same time it was revolutionary, cutting-edge technology.) Have you looked at applets lately? Check this out. Let's see you port that to JavaScript. I think it's just silly that with the current state of Java technology people are still thinking about the platform based on impressions from last millennium. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Comments:

I was quite ready to agree with you! There is a certain "we've been here before" feeling to all this, and way too much is trying to be done in JavaScript. It really seems like the wheel (every type of wheel) is being re-invented there.

However, your argument looses its steam if you click on the "Check this out" link! Really, a horrid experience. I got a screen that said "Click here to download the latest Java plug in", but I could not click anywhere. A friend was able to click and was redirected to a completely incomprehensible page on java.net. So... user experience FAIL.

That's too bad, because frankly I'd trade in all this nasty JavaScript hacking for some nice Java code in a heartbeat. But the user experience for accessing applets is just not there yet. :-( And perhaps never will be if no one is working on it.

Posted by Vanessa Williams on February 20, 2009 at 04:14 AM PST #

Technically speaking, I think Java could make a killer platform for the sorts of applications you're describing. I quite like Java, and I'm especially looking forward to the improved dynamic language support that Java 7 is supposed to offer.

However, I think Sun has not been very successful at managing the customer experience. Success in this sort of consumer-facing technology requires not only solid engineering, but getting right a lot of the small details that add up to a positive experience. Several things come to mind about Java:

1. As you mentioned, people remember applets from the bad old days.
2. Java has always struggled with trying to provide responsive GUIs, and no amount of switching back and forth between heavyweight and lightweight widgets has helped. I haven't looked at Java GUIs lately (or JavaFX), but like applets, it may be an uphill battle to convince people that things are different now.
3. When I mentioned the use of Java to a customer once, he looked at me in shock and said, "You mean that thing in my system tray that's always bugging me about needing to be updated?" Flash, which has arguably won the applet war, doesn't generate that sort of reaction in people.
4. Oh yeah, speaking of system trays... Java finally introduced support for putting icons in the "system tray" / "notification area" in December 2006 -- about ten years too late. Ten years is not a fast enough response time when competing on feature points related to the user experience.
5. Probably many other minor details...

Steve Jobs would not approve of the conditions that led to the above points. I'm not an Apple fanboy or anything, but let's face it... the dude knows how to sell products. Sun needs to take a page or two from the Apple book, and focus on the spit and shine. Even then, Sun will need to lay down some serious shock and awe to supersede bad memories. I would love to see Sun pull this off, before everyone gives up and just starts writing web applications in x86 (google for "nativeclient").

Posted by David Simmons on February 20, 2009 at 08:55 AM PST #

tried clicking on the link
...long wait...
...error...
jdk6.dev.java.net uses an invalid security certificate

Java in the browser - same old pile of crap it always was.

Posted by steve heron on February 20, 2009 at 03:55 PM PST #

http://code.google.com/p/quake2-gwt-port/

Port of jake2 to javascript. I know this is way after your post, but I figured anyone who sees this post should know that it was in fact ported to javascript.

Posted by Zach Richardson on September 22, 2010 at 02:06 AM PDT #

It's worth noting that it's not actually a JavaScript port. It's a GWT port, which means they're writing the code in \*Java\* and letting GWT automatically translate it into JavaScript, which gets back to my point that JavaScript is painful and ugly. Also note that it's for "modern" browsers because the horsepower needed to process that much JavaScript exceeds the boundaries of what "popular" browsers can handle. Basically, Chrome is turning into the JVM for JavaScript. When you consider that they're writing the app in Java, and then translating it into JavaScript to run in the equivalent of a JVM, I have to wonder why bother with the JavaScript in the middle. Java is GPL now, so just fix it instead of reinventing it from a something like JavaScript. Yes, I spent long enough at Sun to now officially be bitter and jaded.

Posted by Daniel Templeton on September 22, 2010 at 01:59 PM PDT #

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