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The O'Reilly Conference on Java:
Day 3

by Robert Eckstein

O'Reilly Java editor and author Robert Eckstein (Java Swing and XML Pocket Reference) sent us this report for Wednesday, March 28, 2001.

The Network is the Computer

First on stage was our own Tim O'Reilly. Tim briefly highlighted from a historical perspective how Sun Microsystems' mantra, "The Network is the Computer," is one of the most important guidelines of the next computer age. "We're moving toward a network-centric world, where data and programs can be stored on a variety of devices," said Tim.

Tim also noted that "both Unix and the Internet have grown out of a participatory framework." Hence, he emphasized that the masses on the Internet will be most responsible for evolving this network over time, and he reiterated how pleased he was that the people are making the choice for freedom of source.

Simon Phipps's Keynote

An Interview with Simon Phipps-- David Sims, editorial director of the O'Reilly Network, talked to Sun Microsystems' chief technology evangelist just before this year's conference. Phipps talked about smart Web services, the evolution of standards bodies, and why he wants a Bluetooth headset.

More Conference Coverage:

Day 1 -- Jonathan Knudsen reports on Jason Hunter's tutorial, "The Battle Above Servlets," in which Jason talked about technologies used in conjunction with Java Servlets to build Web applications.

Day 2 -- Steve Anglin overcomes obstacles to attend Mike Rosen's tutorial on CORBA and EJB and Jack Greenfield's talk on Patterns for Enterprise Applications.

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Also, be sure to check out the photos from Wednesday's keynote.

My favorite event, the keynote, was again delivered by Simon Phipps, Sun Microsystems' chief technology evangelist. His thought-provoking talk this year was titled "Standards, Swarms, and Synergies." After a few laughs, including a shot of China's Tienanmen Square ("Home of Revisionism"), he then threw down the aphorism that "There's nothing new under the sun -- it's all been done before." Many people dismissed this as somewhat trite, but I continually scratched my head on that one. (Well, it also itched.) And I began to see that the truth is that it's not any endpoint on the future of the Internet that's important; it's really all about how we get there that ensures growth.

Simon explained that standards are the foundation that is making Internet growth happen. The only way to have successful standards, where the value of a standard is greater than its cost, is to have shared standards. Thus, Phipps' law: "Shared standards guarantee that value grows fastest." In the twenty-first century, Simon explained, the community process is what's important. "Third-generation standards are largely responsible for getting us to where we [currently] are, and where we're heading tomorrow."

Swarms, however, are the "shape of tomorrow." In the old days (1998, by my estimate), we relied on monolithic software created by small teams of isolated developers. In 2001 and beyond, commercial services and even system software will be distributed across the Internet. The key components that are currently pushing that direction are

  • Business-to-Business Transactions: HTML and XML, Web Servers, Java
  • Open Trading Communities: Shared XML Vocabularies, Strong Data Transforms, and exported company APIs
  • Consumer Access: Service-based connection with wireless as both the catalyst and the game changer

Simon then coined "the hive mind," a process whereby your devices will soon conspire across a network to prepare solutions for your needs, possibly before you even request it. Sound a little like Web services? It is. Simon continued by explaining that at the heart of any architecture like this is a service grid. When we go to one Web site, and we press a button, for example, the site can turn around and make a request from a Web services API from another company, which could in turn repeat the process from another company, again and again. Just think of that 1970s shampoo commercial with the Brady Bunch cloning: "And they'll tell their friends, and so on, and so on..."

Finally, Simon arrived at synergy, which he defined as the "steps toward tomorrow." I liked this part primarily because it contained some concrete information about how to climb the escalator to the heavenly world of Web services. Simon talked about synergy at three levels.

    Components: Simon hypothesized that at the endpoint of every XML data stream will be a Java Bean, or at least -- after repeated cross-examination -- a piece of portable bytecode. He strongly suggested that companies always use or extend agreed XML vocabularies and consider using open source for rapid evolution of their products and longevity ("twenty-first century escrow").

    Companies: Partnerships are the key to ensuring that someone else is not unnecessarily duplicating your efforts. For large corporations (like Sun), it's essential to see that your customers are saying good things about you.

    Communities: Entities should always participate and contribute at the lower levels; competition should always occur at the implementation level or higher.

In conclusion, Simon hammered home the philosophy that open source equals an open future. Using the strategies that he has highlighted creates an optimal cycle of vision, competition, and choice that puts the customer at the center. It was a pretty good talk.


In the afternoon, I attended a short talk on SOAP given by Doug Bateman from the Middleware company. Doug taught me many things that I didn't know about SOAP. For example, I didn't know that SOAP doesn't have a standard API. This is intentional because Don Box, the patriarch of SOAP, did not want to lock developers into a standardized API. Doug explained the three parts of a SOAP message: the envelope, the datatypes, and the instructions. (See the SOAP standard on the Microsoft Web site for more information.)

Another tidbit I picked up is that SOAP can use M-POST, which (if I understand correctly) is a special version of POST that has headers which grants it transport through firewalls. Doug recommended that those who are considering using SOAP start with Apache SOAP, which is based on an IBM implementation. After all, it's free, it's up to date, there's significant momentum behind it, and it supersedes many other implementations.

Custom Tag Libraries Using JavaServer Pages

In the late afternoon, I attended a talk by Hans Bergsten, author of O'Reilly's JavaServer Pages, on custom tag libraries using JavaServer Pages. Hans explained how the concepts of MVC patterns and custom tag libraries (more accurately called "custom actions") are useful for embedding business processes in Java code that can be reused across multiple Web pages.

Hans explained the concepts behind the custom libraries: the TagHandler class and the tag library descriptor (TLD), the latter an XML file that contains elements that describe each tag. Basic tag handlers are largely Java classes with methods such as doStartTag(), doEndTag(), setBodyContent(), doInitBody(), and doAfterBody(). You simply fill in the blanks as to how you want your tag to work. If you want more information, be sure to pick up a copy of Hans's recently released JavaServer Pages.

Later that evening, we attended the Java Jungle Jamboree. (I noticed people calling it J3C.) Great food and loud music added to this three-hour tour of a mockup tropical getaway. Bongo drums aside, this was a great chance for me to interact with several of the attendees, hiding my badge and asking "What think ye of the conference?" It was great to see that so many people were getting so much useful information out of the sessions with all the marketing-speak boiled off. But then again, that's why O'Reilly puts these conferences on, so you don't have to filter it out. My thanks to all those who gave me valuable insights into what made the conference work for them, and what they felt could be better.

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