Sun Preps RIA Resurgence With New Java Release

Sun is releasing a new version of client-side Java insipidly called SE 6 Update 10 that sets the groundwork for JavaFX, a major overhaul of the runtime environment that’s set to debut before the year’s end and will challenge other RIA platforms such as AIR, Silverlight, and Google Gears.

Update 10 comes with two major consumer-facing improvements: a smaller footprint and enhanced speed. Whereas the current version of Java is a 14.5mb download, the newest has been slimmed down to 4.5mb. This will matter most for Windows users who don’t have high-speed internet access (since Java comes prepackaged on Macs and the difference of 10mb is inconsequential over broadband). Nevertheless, the move reflects Sun’s commitment to trimming down a technology that has been criticized for its bloat (many optional components no longer come preinstalled but must be added to the kernel after-the-fact).

Java apps will now enjoy shorter load times with a new quick starter tool as well. We’ll have to see just how instantaneous load times have become, but this is certainly an area where Java should improve since Java apps are noticeably slower to boot up than their Flash counterparts.

For Java to really take off on the web (as it was originally intended), it will have to become more developer-friendly. Update 10 doesn’t change a lot for developers, although Sun has reintroduced the idea of “applets” that make it possible to easily port in-browser Java apps onto the desktop. When consumers install the new version, they will immediately have the ability to drag and drop apps out of the browser. Developers that want to customize the way their apps look and function in the desktop environment will now have the tools do that as well.

These are just incremental improvements for developers compared to the ones that will accompany the release of JavaFX, which will support a simple scripting language called JavaFX Script. The idea is to make coding for Java just as easy as coding in Flash or JavaScript/HTML so developers don’t have to relearn too much when jumping platforms. JavaFX will also support high quality graphics (both 2D and 3D) and audio, taking particular advantage of Direct 3D on Windows.

Sun claims that Java is installed on 91% of PCs, or over 800 million desktops around the world. The company touts Java as an attractive RIA platform in particular because it already enjoys a substantial developer community and runs on a range of devices from mobile phones to TVs.