JavaFX Has Finally Arrived

JavaFX 2.1/2.2 finally gives me the tools that I need to build the applications that I want to build. This release provides 2 missing pieces that make all the difference:

  1. Scene Builder – Finally a good graphical GUI tool for Java. This makes building GUIs almost as easy as Apple’s Interface Builder.
  2. JavaFXPackager Native Bundles – Now you can instantly build native application bundles for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

The only question is whether these features are too late to the party to make a difference. Sun dropped the ball with desktop Java a long time ago. It survived the past 10 years almost entirely on the backs of JavaEE (i.e. web/server programming) and, more recently, Android. Desktop application developers have been fending for themselves for the most part.

Now we have the tools that we need to make some serious applications. The upcoming release of JDK 1.7 will also finally enable Java developers to get their applications into the Mac App store. Currently the bundle size for an application is quite large (over 50 megs for my hello world application test), because it needs to contain the entire Java Runtime Environment, but this should improve over time as we get better at compressing and splicing the JRE to suite specific purposes).

I downloaded Netbeans 7.2, JavaFX Scene Builder, and JavaFX 2.1 (included with JDK 1.7.0u6) to try to build a simple web browser application. This proved to be super easy, and it gives me a lot of faith in the power of technologies such as FXML (an XML format for representing user interfaces). Some key points that impressed me during my short test:

  1. Netbeans now has an option to create a Swing-wrapped JavaFX project. This was previously a real pain, since JavaFX has lots of cool toys, but wouldn’t give you a full desktop experience. E.g. You still needed swing to get menus at the top of the screen for Mac. Swing still does a lot of things well, so if you wanted to use JavaFX, you would generally need to rig up the Swing FX Panel yourself. Having this as a default option for a project is nice. No more messing around.

  2. Using a controller for the FXML file makes it very easy to achieve full separation of the view and logic. The @FXML annotation also makes it incredibly easy to reference elements of the FXML UI from the controller. Attaching events for controls was quite simple.

In order to truly be successful, JavaFX still needs to get a mobile presence. It currently doesn’t run on Android or iPhone (despite demonstrations to the contrary at previous JavaOne conferences). If they can somehow port it to these platforms, I think it will really take off.

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