Desktop Java faces off against AJAX

Desktop and Web apps are becoming more alike, ajaxian.com founder says

In a world where Web-based applications have dominated the discourse lately, does the desktop still matter?

Presenters at the appropriately named Desktop Matters conference in San Jose, Calif. on Thursday afternoon argued that it does. Billed as "The Conference for Java Desktop Application Developers," the event focuses mostly on Java technologies like Swing, which provides component technology for building Java desktop applications. The Spring Java Web framework and the NetBeans open-source platform for Java also are noted on the agenda.

But the opening keynote pitted desktop technologies including Swing against AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), the popular technique for building Web applications. Speakers included Ben Galbraith and Dion Almaer, who are cofounders of ajaxian.com and producers of the Desktop Matters conference.

They said desktop applications and Web applications are actually becoming more alike.

"We're kind of seeing the Web become more desktoppy and the desktop become more Webby," Almaer said.

Swing and AJAX are moving closer in such aspects as available effects and components support, the speakers argued. Also, hosted versions of desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office systems, are starting to appear. Meanwhile, AJAX applications are "cloning" desktop applications like Zoho Office, Galbraith said.

The speakers and audience members cited what they believe are numerous areas where desktop applications enjoy an advantage over Web applications: access to local storage, graphics performance, memory consumption, and the ability to keep sensitive data local.

"We've got a few customers out there who are used to having a desktop app," one audience member said. These customers will wonder what is going on if they are required to install a browser as part of an application upgrade, he said.

Presenters also said desktop Java is fast while AJAX is slow. But they noted better offline support is planned for AJAX via the Dojo Offline Toolkit.

Also at the event, Galbraith announced a project called Nimbus, which is intended to provide a more attractive look and feel for Swing applications. Developed by Sun, Nimbus is an open-source project hosted on Java.net . Graphically, Nimbus resembles Mac OS X and the Windows Vista Aero interface technology, said Galbraith.

"In general, it's just a much nicer look and feel," than has been available for Swing before, he said. Nimbus offers features like variable widget sizes for better use of screen space and nested split panes on the user interface.

A 1.0 beta release of Nimbus is planned for the JavaOne conference, being held in San Francisco beginning May 8. Nimbus may be included in the planned Java 7 release with Java 5 to provide baseline accommodations.

Another topic to be discussed at the Desktop Matters conference is SwingX, which provides open-source extensions to Swing, such as components and frameworks intended to make Swing easier to use, Galbraith said.

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