Java update to boost applets

Standard edition getting enhanced runtime, widget capabilities, download improvements

An impending update to Java might sound like just an incremental release, based on its cumbersome naming: Java Platform Standard Edition 6 Update 10 (Java SE 6 u10).  But the upgrade actually features technology considered critical to reviving the concept of client-side Java applets.

Applet startup times are improved and applets can be turned into desktop widgets via different improvements in Java SE 6u10. Java SE runs on desktops and servers. The upgrade had been slated to appear Thursday but a Sun representative on Wednesday afternoon said the release will be delayed until an as-yet undetermined time. A last-minute issue emerged during final testing.

Among the highlights of the update is Java Quick Starter, providing an enhanced runtime experience by significantly improving Java application and applet startup times, Sun said.

"We've structured the way the Java runtime starts up so the elements associated with starting an applet or starting an application produce results that are visible on the screen quicker," said David Bryant, senior director for Java marketing at Sun.

Sun with Java SE 6u10 also is offering a new method of getting Java software running faster, via Java Kernel. With this feature, users download a kernel featuring the most commonly needed Java Runtime Environment (JRE) components. When additional components are needed, they are downloaded as needed. Users no longer need the full 14.5-MB kernel.

"Now, you just install a 4.5MB initial piece of the Java kernel and that's enough to run common applications and applets," Bryant said.

Although Java initially was hailed in the mid-1990s as a way to run client-side applets, the platform instead became known for its server-side capabilities. But applets are useful in delivering Web application functionality such as charting and data analysis, Bryant said.

"Applets have swung back to being a popular way of delivering functionality through the Web," Bryant said.

The Java update has been viewed as a companion to Sun's new JavaFX technology for rich Internet applications.

"The release of Java SE 6u10 is important because it solves the JRE and Java application deployment issues," in which the entire runtime had been required, said Java developer Jim Weaver, of JMentor and author of a JavaFX blog. "These issues have kept rich-client Java from being feasible for most applications -- until now. I'm looking forward to a future that includes wide use of rich-client Java and JavaFX and I'd like to see Apple follow suit [and support the Java update on MacOS] so that Mac users can enjoy the same deployment benefits and JRE ubiquity."

Weaver noted that Google's new Chrome browser requires Java SE 6 u10 to run Java applets.

An analyst concurred that the update boosts JavaFX.

"The JRE is slimming down at the same time as alternative plug-ins like Silverlight and Flash/Flex are getting beefier, so it helps to make Java (with JavaFX) a competitive alternative to other RIA platform technologies," said analyst Jeffrey Hammond, of Forrester. But Sun still needs to work on getting JavaFX on mobile devices, something not addressed by Java SE 6u10, Hammond noted.

Another boost for applets is inclusion of a built-in Deployment Toolkit in Java SE 6u10. This ensures that users are running the most recent version of Java SE. This makes it easier to deploy applets or Java Web Start programs, Sun said.

Also highlighted is the capability to drag applets directly from a browser and run them as desktop widgets. This is being done by a new implementation of the Java Plug-in. "Browsers don't need to embed the Java [virtual machine] in them. Bryant said.

"My end users can take the mouse, drag that applet out of the browser, drop it on their desktop and now it's running as a desktop [application] outside the browser," Bryant said. 

A browser-independent architecture in Java SE 6u10 enables the plug-in to operate in the same fashion across a variety of browsers.

A modern look and feel is featured via Nimbus, offering enhanced user interface controls for developers. It is drawn using Java 2D vector graphics.

To improve graphics performance of Java applications on Windows desktops, the graphics pipeline in Java SE 6u10 has been rewritten to use Direct3D, a 3D API, for tasks ranging from fills and copies to translucency, gradients, and more advanced 2D operations. Runtime performance of Swing applications is bolstered as well via this improvement.

Sun had provided this download URL as the place to access the update. The release candidate for Java SE 6 u10 is available online.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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