Sun's JavaFX Sets Out to Challenge Flash and Silverlight

Touting consistent "look and feel" and program behavior across platforms, form factors and devices, Sun is currently shipping JavaFX 1.0 for laptops and desktops. Other releases will follow, according to the firm.

Like Microsoft, whose Expression Studio is offered as a free 60-day evaluation, Sun is also making available a set of evaluation tools for designers, content creators, and programmers to try out.

The heart of the programming language is JavaFX Script, somewhat akin to Adobe’s ActionScript in that it uses a declarative syntax to specify graphical user interface (GUI) components. Like Visual Basic, the intent here is to match a developer's code closely to the actual GUI layout.

"Unlike many other Java scripting languages," Sun said, "JavaFX Script is statically typed and will have most of the same code structuring, reuse, and encapsulation features that make it possible to create and maintain very large programs in Java. As such, JavaFX Script is capable of supporting GUIs of any size or complexity."

AJAX, used by many Web 2.0 sites, is written in JavaScript, so it can easily be imported into a JavaFX application. This means, potentially, that existing AJAX-based applications can be ported to JavaFX, meaning that the code, in turn, could be ported beyond the website where AJAX is now typically constrained.

"Our target audience are people that we call creators," Octavian Tanase, senior director of the Java Platform Group at Sun told "With the 1.0 release, we are targeting Web developers, people that are likely going to extend the experience of the Java interface. By 2011, the primary target will be designers, the people who use rich designing tools like [Adobe Systems'] Flash."

One place this may play out is the use of Java applets that act much like Apple’s Widgets or Microsoft Windows Vista’s Gadgets, with the ability to drag a Java applet off a Web page and onto a desktop. This is the goal of Adobe’s Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which seeks to bring content from the web to the desktop, and one of the main reasons that Microsoft’s Silverlight is pushing desktop applications to the web.

JavaFX uses Java Update 10’s Drag-to-Install feature to move applications between the browser the desktop, and its further use of database-aware applications means that it can—just like AIR—input test, media, and other data objects. The potential is here, then, for desktop-located web applications to drive options such as cloud-based transcoding rather than requiring a specific transcoding application on the desktop.

"Only the Java platform is pervasive enough to allow developers to build and deploy RIAs across desktops and browsers on more than 800 million PCs, as well as billions of mobile phones and devices," said Sun Microsystems VP of JavaFX, Ken Wallich, at last week’s launch. "JavaFX builds upon this foundation to deliver immersive and rich presentation capabilities to the existing Java platform."

On2 Technologies has also announced support for JavaFX video encodes in On2's Flix family of transcoders. Flix will now be able to designate output to JavaFX, just as it has previously been able to designate output as an FLV or SWF file. This puts On2 squarely in the middle of the Adobe-JavaFX Rich Internet Application debate.

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