Sun Launches JavaFX To Try And Compete With Flash and Silverlight

Today, Sun officially launched JavaFX 1.0, a new development platform for building rich internet applications (RIA) for Web browsers and desktops. Sun's apparent belief is that with Java technology already being on more than 90 percent of desktops and laptops and 85 percent of mobile devices, they can give Flash and Silverlight a run for their money over time. While that sounds great on paper, I wonder how realistic Sun in being in regards to the lead-time it takes to get a new platform out into the market.

While player penetration holds some weight, as Adobe and Microsoft would tell Sun, it all comes down to getting developers to build on your platform. JavaFX is way late to the game and has quite a few limitations right from the get go. For audio and video applications, JavaFX supports On2's video codecs and On2's Flix software application is the only tool that can encode video for JavaFX. Nothing wrong with On2's codecs, but if JavaFX won't support H.264 soon; they won't get a lot of support. And with Flix being the only tool that can encode video, it puts the costs of encoding content out of the reach of many developers.

Speaking to Sun about this very issue, they did say that this is only version 1.0 and the start of an audio video framework that will support H.264 and other functionality going forward. That's good to hear but again, Adobe and Microsoft has such a head start that I wonder how many additional releases of JavaFX are needed to where developers can start to compare Sun's functionality to Adobe or Microsoft's, specific to video. Sun also mentioned that over time, their Java business model will evolve to where they are generating licensing from things like their Streamstar server. A Java based streaming server that they want to license when the demand for JavaFX video requires enterprises and content delivery networks to support the format. While I understand Sun's desire to generate revenue from a server license, ask any of the CDNs what they think about supporting yet another video delivery platform. Sun won't like the answer.

Along with the announcement, Sun also launched a new website, which showcases some of the functionality of the new platform. While I really would like to see some of the video examples, they don't work. I keep getting an error message saying, "There was one error opening the page" or "Sorry! We couldn't find the document requested." When I questioned Sun on this they told me the site is getting a lot of traffic and that I should try back later. Come on. You're Sun. You launch a new platform that you want people to check out yet the site can't handle the traffic? And how much traffic can it really be getting? At the time of me publishing this post, not a single website or blog in my RSS reader, of which there is over 100, even mention the JavaFX announcement. Sun should be doing a better job with the showcase website.

While it is too early to know if developers will like some of the advantages that JavaFX has when it comes to dragging applications from the browser to Windows desktops, the real question is what are the advantage of using JavaFX as a consumer? Other than the interface and the way the viewer interacts with the content, viewers are the ones that drive the adoption of video platforms. Unless Sun can show viewers through the use of some new applications why they should want to use JavaFX over Flash or Silverlight, Sun is going to have a very hard time cracking the audio and video market.

That being said, while more platforms means additional confusion in a world of online video that already has no standards, competition tends to make companies work harder at making their solutions better. So welcome to the party Sun, but if you want to have any shot at making it, you need to be in this for the long haul and can't expect to see any big gains for years.

  • K

    That JavaFX site is somewhat worthless – especially on a launch day – if it doesn’t work. I was trying to check it out as well, and all I get is a swirling Java logo or “fatal error”.

  • jhm212

    JavaFx will certainly have challenges in the RIA market, i.e. Flash & Silverlight, but you failed to mention some of the advantages JavaFx carries into the ‘RIA war’ that the others do not have today….mobile presence, SmartCards and Blu-Ray! The video game no longer belongs to desktop and ‘online’ browsers!
    Flash has about 800 million mobile devices and looks to add another billion over the next two years, Silverlight has much less, while today JavaFx has the potential of 2.2 billion mobile phones!!
    Java’s ‘penetration’ numbers are impressive but so are the number of their Java developers. Flash has two million developers, Java has thrice that. There are a few billion Java SmartCards and JavaFx now inherits the Blu-Ray standard….how many new video applications will be developed for JavaFx mobile and JavaFx TV over the next two years? The developer base alone could drive a very large number! As JavaFx has these advantages, how are they ‘really’ late to the game?
    The video marketplace has powered past the browser and will now focus on the growth opportunity of devices. The convergent move to ‘four screens’ will dominate video for the next decade, e.g. iPhone, Archos 7, gPhone and Nokia N810 and N97 just continue to raise the bar. Do you really believe that a few hundred dollars is out of range for new Java video developers? Existing Flix owners get the .fxm upgrade for free and $250 certainly can’t be viewed as ‘out of reach’ as you claim, these guru’s are making a good living. This is NOT a large expense for any one working with development tools in the RIA industry. Did you notice that JavaFx also supports VP6x encoded .flv and most of the ‘standard’ mobile formats for video. JavaFx will not have to wait for a video library, they already have three zillion hours of available content waiting for their devices…..
    Currently, JavaFx video has bypassed the commercial H.264 device licensing burden in lieu of ‘optimized Java solutions’ to the specific device. This is an area the company has already identified as one of the largest opportunities for Java revenue. Interactive video on SmartCards, Blu-Ray and IPTV will see huge growth over the next few years. JavaFx will take a nice slice of the video pie that Flash and Silverlight once thought was theirs exclusively!!!!!
    As a ‘CDN expert’, which of the CDN’s will benefit most from the wireless RIA delivery? Will SM continue to cover online video’s move to devices? I’d love to see SM more closely follow the ‘write once, view any where’ strategies that will soon become so prevalent in the video industry….Thanks for your work at SM Dan!!

  • Hi JHM, I didn’t mention some of the “advantages” of JavaFX because right now, those advantages are only on paper. While mobile could be a big advantage like you say, Sun won’t even have any JavaFX developer tools for mobile out for another couple quarters. And the big thing they are focusing on is being able to move apps directly from the browser to the desktop, but that will only work in a Windows environment.
    So while I do agree that Sun could make some impact in the mobile and devices space, for now, it’s all speculation. Until we see developers start to build those apps, it’s a guessing game how fast Sun might get adoption. But clearly, it won’t be anytime soon.
    None of the CDNs today are focusing on anything major when it comes to mobile video related so for the time being, a few years, none of them will benefit. has been covering and writing articles about the idea that content owners want to create it once and then deliver it to any platform, but in reality, that is very hard to do. There is no successful case study I have seen to date where a content owner has done that and it has been easy or cheap to accomplish.
    I’ll also point out, more than 12 hours after I reported the JavaFX website as not working, you still can’t see any demos. I tried it again, 12+ hours later and I get broken links. Not very reassuring.

  • Fareed Hauk

    Dan, if you only knew how incredible this is going to be.
    Make sure you have the latest java upgrade 6.11, go to this site, select a video, WAIT FOR THE RUNTIME ENVIRMOENT TO PRELOAD FROM THE NET FOR THE FIRST TIME, and then you can watch as many videos as you want. This has been working all day. I watched all these hours ago.
    You may want to rewrite this article after seeing how this will effect the poliferation of video. I can’t beleive you don’t support it.

  • Instal killed my browser with unhandled exception (annoyingly loosing lots of unbookmarked pages) and then on re-loading doesnt work.
    Not a good start. Will try again when patience recovers.

  • Fareed, you says how big this is “going to be”. That’s my point. It is not big today. Could it be, yes, but is it now, no. JavaFX only just launched with very limited functionality. You’re declaring them the winner before they have even come out of the gate.

  • Fareed Hauk

    Limited Functionality?
    I’m sorry but you should ask a developer to give you some insight into this. Flash and Silverlight have far more critical limitations, rules, costs (especially costs) and things that will hold back their proliferation into future devices than this technology that sits on the ubiquitous Java platform.
    I get you know video, and I respect you for that. But as for functionality, if you define it as what the possibilities are and what it is capable of, then you aren’t getting it. Go read some Blogs by designers and developers…there is not a respectable bad word on the Net right now about JavaFX. It is a game changer to those in the game.

  • Since my entire post was about JavaFX as it pertains to video, then that’s the debate. Right now, JavaFX has extremely limited functionality for developers who are looking to create any video apps. It’s a brand new platform in the market. The other stuff you can use Java for, I’m not concerned with. The debate is about video.

  • Thanks, Dan… that codec story confused me too:
    It does look like On2 VP6 for cross-platform, as well as support for external native video such as QuickTime’s H.264 and Windows Media. Although many production workflows already deliver as On2 VP6, cross-platform H.264 support would probably interest more video creators. But many shops already have UI architectures by now, so video support would be necessary, but not sufficient. Tricky problem.
    I’m not sure about this line, though: “While player penetration holds some weight, as Adobe and Microsoft would tell Sun, it all comes down to getting developers to build on your platform.”
    There are two angles in there: levels of consumer support, and levels of developer support. Many Java developers work mainly on the server side, as do .NET developers. These people may or may not be interested in learning about clientside development, and all the issues involved in browser delivery. Same with Adobe’s customers: many InDesign or Photoshop professionals deliver to the browser, but not all do.
    (Tellingly, the agencies Microsoft contracts for Silverlight showpiece sites tend to be Flash shops learning XAML, rather than .NET shops learning the browser.)
    Delivering to the browser is a separate task, probably harder than learning a new programming syntax… you have to learn the new restricted DOM, timing and scope, delivery constraints, bandwidth sensitivities, privacy/security issues, many more. The raw number of “Java developers” or “.NET developers” may matter less than how many are willing to learn about running inside a browser.
    On the consumer side, JavaFX may end up holding an advantage over Silverlight, as its FAQ describes: “No separate installation of JavaFX runtime or plugin is required to run JavaFX applications on desktops and browsers. JavaFX 1.0 Desktop Runtime will be automatically downloaded on Windows and Mac OS desktops and browsers that support Java 1.5 or higher, when users access a JavaFX application for the first time.”
    I don’t know what level of consumer support Java 1.5+ has, nor what the final user experience may be, but there may end up being fewer consumer support costs for using JavaFX than Silverlight. Still indeterminate.
    On Adobe’s side, we’ve got to work to get that existing +90% consumer support for H.264 video out onto mobile devices too. Things get meaningful up above 80%.

  • Pez Dispensor

    “Nothing wrong with On2’s codecs, but if JavaFX won’t support H.264 soon; they won’t get a lot of support. And with Flix being the only tool that can encode video, it puts the costs of encoding content out of the reach of many developers.”
    I seem to remember Macromedia getting a lot of attention and getting Flash video on the map by using the VP6 video codec. Sure they added H.264 support. To be perfectly honest with you, as an end user, I can’t tell the difference between HD H.264 and HD VP6. Is their a difference? Is HD, HD at the same bit rate despite the codec or is HD not HD at the same bit rate despite the codec? Also, the last I read, On2 can also provide H.264 support along with VP6, VP7 and VP8.

  • noobie

    I’m a CS undergraduate. We are learning java, im taking on javafx as a personal mission out of class. I dont care if they win now or next year – im looking at 3 years from now. By then I’ll know java and fx and things might be a bit mature by then, me too ;D.