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Chet Haase and Romain Guy Talk Java UI

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Steve Haines gets with Chet Haase and Romain Guy, authors of Filthy Rich Clients: Developing Animated and Graphical Effects for Desktop Java™ Applications, for a quick Q&A before JavaOne 2009.
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Chet Haase and Romain Guy are members of the JavaOne "Rock Star Wall of Fame" for their contributions to JavaOne and Java technology. (They even have the honor of being listed right next to each other, at least until some upstart with a last name that fits between "gu" and "ha" spoils that bit of fun.) They are also authors of the popular book Filthy Rich Clients: Developing Animated and Graphical Effects for Desktop Java™ Applications (also available in Safari Books Online and as a downloadable eBook). Steve Haines, host of InformIT's Java Reference Guide, caught up to them for a quick Q&A before this year's JavaOne.

InformIT: Can you tell us a little about your background? What are you doing now?

Chet Haase: I've always been interested in graphics — anything that puts the pixels on the screen. I was at Sun for several years, working on Java 2D and then the Java client software stack overall, and I was usually focused on the graphics pieces of the platform. Now I'm at Adobe Systems working on the Flex SDK, which is a library for writing rich client applications that run on the Flash platform. I've been working on animation for Flex since I got to Adobe, and am currently racing with the rest of the team toward some upcoming milestones (watch for a beta soon...).

Romain Guy: I really enjoy working with GUIs, and I had fun with Swing for several years. I even worked at Sun on Swing, and this how I met Chet. I still haven't decided if it was a good thing. I now work at Google on Android, an Open Source operating system for mobile devices. I've been working on the application framework, the UI toolkit, applications, and couple of tools since I joined the team. It's a very exciting project that keeps me extremely busy.

IT: You have been writing about rich user interfaces in Java for a while, can you tell me what you core motivations were in writing Filthy Rich Clients?

CH: Money. It was all about the money. I mean, I thought about it and it seemed obvious to me that the path to riches was to write technical books for small, niche audiences. This hasn't been proven out in practice, but I still hope to see the book on the bestseller list any day now. I expect it's just the downturn in the economy that's prevented it so far. I suppose another motivation was that I enjoy not only making graphics software work, but also explaining how it works and showing how other developers can do cool stuff with the platform. I think that any mature platform like Java is large enough that there are often multiple ways of doing things, and it's not always obvious to developers how to do things, or whether they can even do them at all. And since most developers are paid to write the core business logic, it seems like the UIs suffer because of it. If it's not obvious how to do something like an animated effect, and it's not a strict requirement for the deliverable, then it simply won't be done. We like rich UIs, so we wanted to make it easier for developers to create rich UI applications. Also, strangely, I really enjoy writing. I discovered this after posting a few blogs, so it seemed like a fun challenge to try to take on a book. The editing process was, of course, sheer hell and torture and I'd rather remove my own spleen with a popsicle stick than do that again. But the writing was fun.

RG: I just love writing. I spent a few years working as a freelance journalist for French technical magazines and as a translator for O'Reilly, and writing a book seemed like the next fun thing to do. And it was actually fun. That is until I discovered what "editing" meant and I felt like I was robbed of a few months of my life. When Chet and I started this project, we really wanted to show developers how Java 2D and Swing work, not only to help them improve the UI of their applications, but also to teach them all the cool tricks that make applications faster and more responsive. It was also a great way to take a closer look at the shortcomings of the platform and try to come up with tools to help developers, like Chet's Timing Framework.

IT: What types of feedback did you receive from your readers? What in particular did they find the most useful?

CH: I won't go into the death threats and personal attacks; surely those were anomalies and it's been at least a couple of weeks since the last one. Otherwise, the book seems to have been pretty well received, based on feedback we've had in reviews, forums, and personal emails from my mother. The things that people seem to have enjoyed the most range from the detailed information on how Swing and 2D work to tips on how to get "Filthy Rich" effects to the readability and fun approach of the book. It's this last one that I'm most proud of; we wanted to make the book not only informative, but also enjoyable. Doing this while also filling 600+ pages with deeply technical content and code for over 80 demos was a challenge, but I think it worked. It helped that we wrote the entire book as a series of limericks.

RG: The feedback we got was awesome. The biggest complaint I've read was about the format of the demos from someone who didn't like NetBeans much. If that's the worst we did, I feel like we did a pretty good job overall. I am very happy that readers and reviewers seemed to have enjoy the two things we were aiming for: deep technical content and a fun, easy-to-read book.

IT: I hear that you two are working on another book together. Can you give us a brief overview?

CH: We have started another project, on the topic of (surprise!) rich client development, but this time for the Flex platform. That's about as far as I'll go, because life and work have conspired against us and the project is still very much in the starting phase.

RG: When Chet came to me to offer me to work on another book, I was thrilled. Not only because I knew I would be able to suffer from his jokes again, but also because my current job leaves me a few hours of sleep each week and I must definitely fix that. I think we'll change the title to "Sleepless nights in California: how to lose your sanity and your family."

IT: Chet, I see that you are working for Adobe. With a background in rich client Java applications, how do you (both of you) feel that Java client technologies complement or compete with Flex? When do you think developers should use Java versus Flex?

CH: Actually, Flex is very Java-friendly. Flex began life as a client solution for server applications. The goal was to make it easier to create rich and compelling client applications that talked to the back end. As part of that, Flex makes it very easy to communicate with multiple kinds of server solutions, including Java-based services. In fact, some of our server technologies, such as ColdFusion and Live Cycle Data Services, are Java-based. Also, our tools chain is based on Java; the IDE that Adobe offers for building Flex applications is a plugin for Eclipse. So it's not a Java-or-Flex thing at all; it's Java and Flex.

RG: It's Java and Flex, but if you want to easily create cool GUIs, it's Flex. Just Flex.

IT: What are your feelings about Java and JavaFX? As you're building rich client applications are you more inclined to build them with Java or with JavaFX?

CH: I think it's great that companies are recognizing that rich user experiences are increasingly important for successful applications and platforms. Some of the capabilities and goals of JavaFX are exactly the kinds of things that Romain and I were trying to simplify for developers by writing the book and the demos that showed how to do cool stuff with Swing and Java 2D.

RG: What I find the most exciting about JavaFX are the APIs that power it. They're regular Java APIs that you can reuse in standard Swing applications. As for the language itself, meh.

IT: We've all seen changes in the Java industry in the past year, most recently and notably the acquisition of Sun by Oracle. How do you feel that this will impact the Java community?

CH: I haven't a clue. But if I were to speculate, I'd wonder what I was having for dinner tonight.

RG: To be honest, the Swing/Java2D/JavaFX crowd seems to be a tiny fraction of the Java community. And when you look at Oracle's products and offerings, it seems they will be a perfect match for the community as a whole. Now the client side, that's another story...

IT: What do you think the future holds for Java client technologies?

CH: If I could read the palm of the client technologies, I'm sure I would see a chance encounter with a beautiful stranger in their future, and fortunes both won and lost. Also, I'd probably see some mustard stains from lunch.

RG: Not much. But I'd like to know more about that lunch Chet foretold.

IT: Your JavaOne session, Move Your Users: Animation Principles for Great User Experiences, sounds exciting. What do you hope your attendees will take away from the presentation?

CH: I hope they take away joy, a happy glow, and a sense of personal fulfillment. I hope they take away their trash, also, because it's polite to leave the room nice for the next session. We're taking a different approach for this session than we have done for our other ones in the past. For one thing, there will be less code and more ideas; it's a higher-level presentation where we will examine some of the animation "rules" that the animators at Disney evolved and see how these rules apply to GUI animations as we try to make better user experiences. Also, we plan to do the entire session in mime, while juggling.

RG: I hope the attendees will take away Chet. I am French but I'm scared shitless of mimes. So someone, please help me and take him away.

IT: What are you particularly excited to see at this year's JavaOne?

CH: I just heard there's a "Filthy Rich Clients with Swing" session in the Desktop track .. but we're not giving it! I'm looking forward to seeing that one. I'm a bit afraid that it is our session after all and I just forgot about it; I'll arrive in the room to find out that I'm supposed to be on stage.

RG: I'm really excited about everything because I haven't looked at the schedule yet, so I'm having this fantasy about Sun/Oracle announcing during the keynote that this year's JavaOne will be only about cool visual effects and UI design. Chet did tell me about this "Filthy Rich Clients with Swing" session though. This is intriguing. I'm intrigued.

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