Enterprise apps get a face-lift

At Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne, improving the UIs of enterprise Java applications was all the buzz

Modern enterprise applications have been praised for many virtues. They are powerful, scalable, reliable, complex, and secure. One thing they typically aren't, however, is pretty.

That could soon change, according to Doug Fisher, vice president of software and services for Intel. "Consumer usage is evolving faster than the enterprise," Fisher admitted, speaking at the Oracle OpenWorld conference this week in San Francisco. But as consumers grow accustomed to the sophisticated user interfaces of modern Web-based services, he said, increasingly they will expect the same level of sophistication in the applications they use for work.

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The result is what Intel likes to call "the consumerization of enterprise IT," in which the drab, dated UIs we've come to expect of enterprise apps are gradually replaced by experiences that resemble those of consumer-facing services. "You as a developer are going to be expected to delight that end-user," Fisher said.

But how? Enterprise developers have never really been in the delight business. Rich Internet application (RIA) toolkits abound, but few have caught on in a major way, with the possible exception of Adobe Flex.

Giving Java a makeover
One way to encourage richer UIs in enterprise apps might be to build RIA capabilities into the Java platform, which remains the leading tool for enterprise development. Indeed, a stroll around the exhibition hall at this year's JavaOne conference, which took place concurrently with OpenWorld, revealed numerous vendors offering tools and frameworks aimed at creating attractive, highly interactive UIs in Pure Java.

More important, Oracle has taken notice of the issue and is moving forward with aggressive efforts of its own. Thomas Kurian, Oracle executive vice president of product development, devoted much of his JavaOne keynote to explaining the various ways Oracle plans to give Java applications a face-lift, both on the desktop and in the data center.

For starters, a forthcoming version of Java SE will include a high-performance 2-D and 3-D graphics engine. For the first time, developers will have access to advanced media and vector graphics APIs that take full advantage of hardware acceleration, while still retaining Java's cross-platform capabilities.

Next, Oracle plans to integrate its JavaFX RIA technology more tightly with the core Java platform. "We're going to bring together the power of Java and the ease of JavaFX," Kurian says. That means developers will be able to use traditional Java IDEs, profilers, debuggers, and other tools to build interfaces using a single programming model, based on JavaFX, which spans both desktop and server environments.

To facilitate richer server-side apps, Java will become better integrated with existing Web standards, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Java developers will be able to use embedded HTML5 to deliver application UIs. In addition, Oracle plans to build a layer that facilitates easy two-way interoperability between Java and JavaScript. In short, while Java has long fancied itself the "language of the Web," now it has begun working toward actually achieving that goal.

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