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Posted on December 5th, 2008 by David Fearon

JavaFX: the worst marketing spin in history

And so Sun, the company that invented Java around ten years ago, has just released JavaFX. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so cynically dismissive of a new software platform. It seems a desperately cack-handed move to get into the rich internet application market, and it comes at least three years too late.

According to Sun, JavaFX is, “an expressive rich client platform for creating and delivering rich Internet experiences across all screens of your life.”

I’m irritated already – whoever came up with the marketing phrase “all screens of your life” (which crops up all over the JavaFX site) needs a good talking to.

Putting it another way, JavaFX is a competitor to Adobe Flash and its Flex RIA platform. Which is much like Silverlight, the Microsoft competitor that currently isn’t really getting anywhere.

To succeed, JavaFX is going to have to displace its massively well-entrenched competitor with some seriously compelling advantages.

How about a compact footprint? Erm, no. JavaFX runs on the standard Java runtime environment, which is still a lumbering beast of a thing; it’s a 15MB download. Starting up a Java applet on a web page is always heralded by a fanfare of hard-disk grinding, and JavaFX is no different. The JavaFX examples still take far longer to come to life than a Flash application, while managing to look less polished and demonstrating none of the silky-smooth fluidity of Flash.

All that aside, the thing that annoys the hell out of me is the way in which JavaFX is being marketed. It treats people, especially developers, like total idiots.

Says Schwartz:

“We certainly hadn’t up until recently looked at the impact of time-based media, of video playback, of high-quality audio”

It would be more accurate to say that Sun has paid just enough lip service to video and audio to get developers interested in it, and then frustrate the bejeezus out of them by not supporting it properly. The Java Media Framework has been skulking about like an illegitimate child in the backwaters of Sun’s website since the late 1990s.

Now we come to the real doozy. According to Schwartz, JavaFX “enables you to bypass hostile browsers”. This is accompanied by a slide showing us the hostile browsers in question:

I’ve never read such a ridiculous statement.

The argument seems to be that Sun is graciously giving us a way to avoid those terrible money-making browser companies (including, um, the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation) and paving the way to simplicity and clarity by introducing a competitor to Flash. Words fail me.

Schwartz goes on to say that JavaFX is for “content owners that want to deliver their content without obstruction.”

What? What obstruction? Anyone who wants to deliver an internet application can construct it in Flash and it will run in any one of the ‘hostile’ browsers. Where’s the obstruction in that?

Turning now to Sun’s Eric Klein, giving some insight into the groups of people that JavaFX was apparently designed for. Klein opines:

The third group we thought a lot about was the visual designer, folks who use things like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and other graphics tools. And what they said to us is: ‘let us join the party. Let’s create a designer-developer workflow, so that our content… can seamlessly get into the development process

The absurdity of that statement genuinely does my head in. As if anybody on the planet is going to think for one second that Adobe designers are going to turn to Sun for their tools by preference, rather than Adobe’s own RIA platform, which is aimed at precisely the same usage models.

It all feels horribly like a cynical catch-up ploy from a company whose share price has dropped 84% in the past year, compared to drops of 45% and 54% for Microsoft and Adobe respectively. Which would be fine were it not for the tasteless way in which it’s being marketed.

The nicely ironic twist, of course, is that all those JavaFX videos run in a Flash video player.


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6 Responses to “ JavaFX: the worst marketing spin in history ”

  1. technogeist Says:
    December 6th, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Why didn’t they think of this stuff 8 or 9yrs ago when browser compatibility was a real pain in the arse?

    Flash was around back then and Sun could have swept it away when they had all the accolades foisted upon them.

    2008, Asleep at the wheel.

  2. Osvaldo Doederlein Says:
    December 6th, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    The videos at the site are Flash, but the video at the homepage uses a Java FX player. You surely understand that (a) the channelsun site predates Java FX, and (b) there is a chicken-and-egg problem – it doesn’t make sense to require Java FX for most of its marketing, as FX is brand new and not too many people have its runtime installed yet, right?

  3. Martin S Says:
    December 9th, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Sun COULD’ve cornered the marked if they had followed through in their original applet endeavor. Why they would venture into the RIA market so late, with such a clunky and convoluted runtime, is anyones guess. With all the people that left Sun, I’m guessing some of their engineers thought so as well.

    @Osvaldo: If the install experience is streamlined enough, sure it does. That’s how Adobe (Flex) and Microsoft (Silverlight) does it. I personally found it annoying how the site was full of Ajax and Quicktime video – but no JavaFX up until the launch.

  4. Osvaldo Doederlein Says:
    December 9th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    @Martin S: I understand your “dogfood” argumetns, but remember that FX is just too new. Microsoft didn’t use Silverlight massively, even in their Silverlight development sites, when they had just released 1.0 – and certainly not before that (with prereleases of 1.0). Eating alpha/beta-quality dogfood is stupid because the product is obviously buggy and incomplete and it won’t serve any purpose to make a bad first impression. And while JavaFX 1.0 is already FCS, that’s just really true for the Windows patform. It runs on Macs but apparently with inferior performance (the good stuff in 6u10 has yet to be ported to the Mac – and that is a problem because Apple, not Sun, does the port). Linux and Solaris are also missing both 6u10’s client-side goodies and any kind of support for JavaFX (you can actually unpack the FX runtime and run most stuff on Linux and other platforms, but without important pieces like all the video/audio codecs which are platform-specific). So, making a website heavily based on JavaFX, for example for all the navigation, would mean that Linux users wouldn’t even be able to browse the site. I expect the “dogfood” adoption of FX to increase gradually, as Sun closes the gap in support for at least the mac and Linux platforms (both very popular with developers, if not with the general public).

  5. BoD Says:
    December 9th, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    About the “hostile browsers” bit, I think it had nothing to do with “money-making browser companies”.
    Browsers can be seen as ‘hostile’ by *developers* as they come between your app and the user for no good reason. For example you want to make a desktop like application inside the browser: your application now has two menu bars! Your app’s menu, and the browser’s menu, how inconveniant.

    Also ‘hostility’ comes from the fact that all the browsers have annoying specificalities and of course you must target them all.

    I guess JavaFX is trying to address these problems… I agree that maybe the statement was not tactful and poorly worded…

  6. RIP_tractorboy Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Just what we didn’t need, to go with Silverlight (which we also didn’t need).

    Enough of these “me too” web 2.0 widgets, we’ve already all got Flash and it works!



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