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Monday, November 28, 2011

Android rules: Five exciting days at Devoxx 2011

Devoxx is one of the largest Java and Web conferences in Europe, held annually in Antwerp and organized by the Belgian Java User Group (BeJUG). From November 14th to 18th, I undertook the 400 miles voyage by car and dared to stay at infamous Belgian hotels to experience another exciting conference. And it was worth it all: the conference offered more than enough news and technology and software talk for everybody, enough to confirm the motto “Meet us in paradise”. Nearly 3.500 people attended, more than all the years before, and to my taste more than the venue can take. There was so much pushing and shoving during coffee and lunch break that time for small talk was short. To get a seat at the most interesting talks I had to arrive 30 minutes early. At this size the conference is comparable to Java One now and there will be a spin-off in Paris next year. All talks at Devoxx were recorded and will be published at

Image 1: Android Keynote by Tim Bray

Android, the UNIX-based operating system, was THE hot topic of the conference. Google developer advocate Tim Bray gave an excellent keynote on Android and thus prepared the stage for a plethora of presentations and workshops on the topic. With six parallel sessions every attendee was able to indulge himself in Android all day long. Version 4.0 of Android (codename: “Ice cream sandwich – no kidding) was just recently published. Android-creator Google, one of the main sponsors of Devoxx, in that release especially emphasizes usability and GUI-design. This really showed in the 3-hour-long workshop given by Bruno Oliveira by Google Brazil. Among other things he talked about the new GUI “fragments”, which are introduced in ice cream sandwich and which will be available to older releases via compatibility libraries.  I can also recommend the talks of Chet Haase, graphics and GUI programming specialist, who came from Adobe to Google. He presented many interesting details of the OpenGL interface of Android 4.0.

On the other hand, Oracle and Java still don’t seem to have found one another yet. Both keynotes of the Oracle employees Cameron Purdy (Java EE) and Henrik StÃ¥hl (Java SE) were devoid of inspiration. They concentrated much on acquisition related stuff, which does not seem to make sense at a developer conference. Java 7 is out now and of course was covered by some talks. But nevertheless, drive and vision concerning Java seem to be lacking at Oracle. Interestingly, JSF was not addressed in any of the presentations, if not as a negative example. On contrast, the session on Java design faults and the childhood illnesses of the Java libraries held by Google chief Java programmer Joshua Bloch was really amazing.

One thing is pretty clear now: Flash and Flex are dead! Adobe announced to stop development of flash for mobile systems. HTM5 – the second hot topic of the conference – will do the rest. It’s clear that HTML5 is a game changer. RIAs and Web applications now get an even more powerful toolset on their hands, the consequences of which cannot be totally seen at the moment. I think, HTML5 and its syntax are less important on their own, but it will be crucial what JavaScript APIs and frameworks like ExtJS, jQuery and GWT make of it. A first glimpse of that could be seen in the awesome presentation of Matt Raible. He showed a mobile web application with HTML5 (and CoffeeScript and Play and Scale and…), which permanently polls the geolocation API of his iPhone and maps the way a runner or biker has traveled. As long as HTML5 is not fully standardized and not totally implemented in all browsers, PhoneGap can be an alternative. This means compiling the web application together with a special version of safari into some kind of native app, which can be distributed via app store (android market, respectively).

Spare time is short at Devoxx, but it was put to good use: it is good Devoxx tradition, to serve dinner with French fries and Belgian beer on Wednesday night. On Thursday, a movie is presented (“Tintin” this time) and afterwards a clubs opens for a special Devoxx party.

Devoxx is also a place, where you can watch the ups and downs of the hype cycle: “cloud computing” meanwhile is being regarded as a standard technique by the conference attendees. You just use it and expect systems and frameworks to be working in the cloud. Concerning the topic “NoSQL”, which was represented at the conference among others by MongoDB, the hype cycle has moved on and now also disadvantages are being recognized. For example, Chris Richardson profoundly addressed the question of valid criteria for deciding between different types of NoSQL and standard databases.

As with all events of this size there are always some downsides: the wireless LAN was offline most of the time, the new paperless registration with a glued paper wristband (!) was not really to my liking, the lunch was mediocre and the number of women at the conference is a pity (as was eloquently remarked at by Tim Brady in his keynote). Nevertheless, for all Java and web enthusiasts Devoxx remains a content-rich quality event – without true alternative.

Image 2: One of six rooms: Devoxx was crowded

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