Java Champion - Geert Bevin and His Work With JavaScript

   
By Steven Meloan, December 2006  

The Java Champions program was introduced in June 2005 at the JavaOne Conference in San Francisco. As part of the Sun Community Champions program, the title was created to recognize world leaders in the various aspects of the Java technology ecosystem--including authors, trainers, professors, researchers, developers, and JUG leaders. The Java community itself nominates most candidates, and selects new Java Champions through a peer review process. Out of a pool of nearly 6,000,000 Java developers worldwide, there are now 85 Java Champions--so it is an elite group!

In July, 2006, Geert Bevin was recognized with the title of Java Champion. Bevin is the founder and CEO of Uwyn (Use What You Need), a web development and software firm operating out of Belgium. Uwyn focuses on developing easy to use tools and technologies targeting small to medium web sites. The company's offerings include RIFE, a full-stack web application framework providing the tools and APIs necessary to easily implement most common web features. According to the Uwyn site, RIFE offers "90% of the features, with 10% of the usual effort."

Bevin has also been heavily involved with OpenLaszlo, an open-source platform for the development and delivery of rich Internet applications (RIA) on the web. OpenLaszlo uses XML and JavaScript to create either Flash or DHTML files that offer the elegance and rich functionality of installed application software, but running within any Web browser. Using OpenLaszlo, Bevin created Bla-bla List, a to-do list application that delivers sophisticated drag-and-drop features and collaborative online functionality. Bla-bla List was voted "Best Online To-Do List Tracker" by New York Magazine.

In the near future, Bevin plans to contribute to a collaboration between Sun Microsystems and OpenLaszlo. The project, code-named "Orbit," will enable OpenLaszlo applications on portable devices supporting the Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME). Sun and OpenLaszlo expect to release the first demonstratable Project Orbit application running under Java ME later this year.

question Can you give us a brief summary of your history within the technology realm, and how/when you began using Java technology?

answer I started web development in 1997 with Perl/CGI and PHP/FI, after having played with various programming languages in my free time. At a small local startup, I had the chance to explore DHTML for the front-end, and learn Java for the back-end. Soon, I wrote a DHTML library to allow easy cross-browser creation of complex designs. Browser technology was too young at the time, though, and Internet connectivity was a bit too slow. But I've always been interested in the pushing the limits of the client-side and the server-side, while still respecting the nature of the web.

question What did Java technology bring to your development work that other technologies did not?

answer What initially attracted me to Java was its platform-independent nature. I preferred working on Linux, so doing the development in Java assured that I could effortlessly work with developers that used Windows. Since C++ was my first OOP language, Java also presented itself as a much simpler and more comfortable successor. The richness of the JDK also amazed me. All of this contributed to the open-source eco-system around Java--which has become one of its most important benefits for me.

question Given your work with OpenLaszlo, are you currently mainly focused on JavaScript/EcmaScript? Or do you also work with the Java programming language?

answer It seems to go in waves. For the past six months, I mostly worked with EcmaScript and OpenLaszlo. But for the past three years, most of my time was spent with the Java language--both for server and client development.

question Tell us about Uwyn and its genesis.

answer Uwyn stands for "Use What You Need." We typically do small to medium sized web sites. I found that most of my customers didn't need an enterprise approach--with large, complex architectures. We wanted to benefit from all that the Java platform has to offer, but use a development framework that would allow you to develop quickly, and maintain easily. A small-scale, very targeted, agile development approach proved to be the most effective approach. I knew a number of colleagues that, like me, were very enthusiast about learning new technologies, products and development tools--and that basically loved computing. So it made sense to create a company around that eco-system--using a network of very skilled developers that I contact as the need arises.

Example of Bla-bla List  Example Uses for Bla-bla List
Example of Bla-bla List
Example Uses for Bla-bla List

question How did you become involved with OpenLaszlo?

answer When Macromedia announced Flex, I immediately started looking into it, and participated in the beta test. But the pricing was totally unworkable for the projects I was involved in. And its closed-source nature stood in stark contrast to the other technologies we were using. I looked around for other platforms with the same capabilities, and stumbled onto Laszlo (which was still commercial at that time). The pricing was much more affordable than Flex, and it was designed for cross-platform rendering from the ground up. I began learning Laszlo, and then all of a sudden it was open-sourced. It's clear that the open-sourcing drastically increased their popularity and user-base. Now, I think that even from a technical point of view, open-sourcing Laszlo has made it a much stronger product than Flex.

question Tell us about Sun teaming up with OpenLazlo for Java ME support. What will Project Orbit bring to the platform?

answer With OpenLaszlo 4.0 (code name "Legals"), the architecture of the platform is being remodularized into a true multi-runtime platform. This allows the same source program written in OpenLaszlo's LZX language to be compiled to Flash, DHTML, or anything else. There isn't a lot known yet about the exact details of Project Orbit, since the first public demos are scheduled for the end of the year. However, its aim is to have OpenLaszlo applications run on Java ME without the need for any specific players. So Java ME will become the third supported runtime environment for OpenLaszlo. And with over a billion Java technology supported phones in the world, that's a significant development opportunity. Being able to use the same language and platform for the creation of interactive mobile applications, and interactive web applications, dramatically reduces the learning curve, and allows you to leverage the same IT knowledge and code-base. Project Orbit immediately made a lot of sense to me, and I'm very enthusiast about it. There's a press release about the project on OpenLaszlo website.

question What was your reaction to being nominated as a Java Champion?

answer I was extremely surprised and very honored. I first learned about the program at JavaOne this year, and saw a number of Java Champions displayed on the big screen. I secretly said to myself that it would be awesome to have that title one day. Little did I know, but they were voting on my acceptance at that very time. I feel great about getting public recognition from my peers for the work that I've been doing on RIFE. My girlfriend even understood that this was something special, and proudly talked about it to her friends.

question What projects do you have planned for the future?

answer I've reserved the next two months for full-time work on RIFE. I'm also writing a series of short reference books for O'Reilly. This will provide comprehensive documentation for the framework.

G. Bevin: Dream Like a Tree cover
RIFE Logo

Additionally, I'll be working on RIFE/Continuations, which is a standalone library that contains the native Java continuations functionality of RIFE. There has been much interest in this, most notably from WebWork 2 / Struts 2, so it's time to properly polish, package, document and release the project. In parallel, I will propose a JSR for continuations in Java, so that a common API can be established.

And we're currently investigating new RIFE features that marry continuations and Ajax, or that leverage JMS for real-time reporting, logging and inspection of a web application. We're thinking of coupling the latter with a test case generator. RIFE's full-stack nature makes it possible to see detailed events of everything that happens when an action is triggered. This information can then be used to generate the source code for the execution paths and assertions that are necessary to test that particular functionality.

G. Bevin: Dream Like a Tree cover
RIFE Architecture Overview

question How would you recommend getting started in contributing to OpenLazlo and Orbit?

answer The one-stop resource for everything related to OpenLaszlo is the project website. There's a page there that clearly documents what you need to know to become a contributor. If you're just starting development with the platform, take a look at the Software Developer's Guide to OpenLaszlo Applications. This is a very thorough tutorial for everything that you need to know to create OpenLaszlo applications. Also, be sure to browse through the source code, and ask questions on the users and developers list. People are very helpful, and the sources are quite easy to delve into.

question I see you're also a musician. Who/what are your influences? Do you see programming and music as related and/or complementary?

G. Bevin: Dream Like a Tree cover
G. Bevin: Dream Like a Tree

answer My influences are varied, ranging from Neil Young and Soul Coughing, to Nick Cave and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to Madonna and Jamiroquai. More information, including downloadable CDs, can be found on my personal web site.

I see music and programming to be related in terms of the overall creative process. Much of the same openness and braveness is required--in terms of exploring new areas, and creating little pieces of beauty. And similarities can also be found in terms of concert performances and conference presentations. Both require you to captivate and entertain the audience!

For More Information

Uwyn "Use what you need"
RIFE Java application framework
Music and words

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