Where programming meets politics

Regional tech effort could finally bring cooperation, or even peace, to the Middle East.

Mike Schroeder 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mike Schroeder 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An integrated, one-stop programming interface to develop the cellphone and handheld device applications of the future, a pioneering hi-tech training environment to recruit people for companies that are hiring - and even a regional tech development effort that could finally bring cooperation, even peace, to the Middle East. It's all part of Sun Microsystems's plan to bring high quality Java applications to cellphones, PDAs, and even TV set-top boxes. With much confidence, Mike Schroeder, Sun's marketing director for the eastern Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa, says that Israel is the "convergence point" for many of the most important developments in those plans. If it all sounds cutting edge, it is and that actually fits Sun's corporate personality, as the company has been on the leading edge of developments that later proved to be dominant trends in the computing industry. From developing the first network file system protocol, NFS, in the early 1990s, to developing what was designed as the first "universal software platform," Java, in 1995, to releasing the first full-fledged free office suite, StarOffice, in 1999; and then releasing its source code, which allowed StarOffice to morph into OpenOffice, one of the crown jewels of the open source software movement. Sun has been there since before the trend became, well, trendy. In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of Sun's Java Technology Day in Tel Aviv last week, Schroeder outlines some of the basics of Sun's latest programming aid for Java development, the Java FX platform. Java, of course, is Sun's high-level protocol that allows programmers to create applications in "virtual machine" environments, regardless of hardware or operating system - allowing them to develop programs or mini-applications ("applets") that can run on a variety of devices in the same way. Java is especially popular for cellphone and handheld device development, because of its compact overhead, its ability to emulate or duplicate applications on desktop computers or servers and the fact that it, too, is now mostly open source, meaning that developers can let their imagination run wild, playing with the guts of the code to their hearts' content. Programmers like it because it saves them a lot of work - "write once, run everywhere." With Java, you can play the online games you play on the Internet on your cellphone too, and that Google Map you checked out on your PC before leaving home will look and feel the same when you check it out on your handheld device while on the road. Java FX is the latest iteration of the venerable protocol, and is designed to make Java development easier and quicker for programmers than ever. "JavaFX has an easy to use interface that allows programming for any kind of environment," Schroeder says. "The best part is that it takes care of much of the 'back office' stuff, like networking protocols for the different environments or hardware the Java development is being done for. The programmer has that much less to worry about and can concentrate on getting the application out much more efficiently." One of Sun's objectives is to expand the circle of Java-lovers to include developers of devices like set top boxes. Java is now an official part of the Blu-Ray DVD protocol, giving the menus and subtitles on Blu-Ray DVDs a much cleaner, clearer appearance, as well as making them easier to work with, Schroeder says, and the company would like to do the same for cable TV boxes and digital video recorders. "Developers love JavaFX," Schroeder says. "The download numbers for the system are much higher than we had anticipated and the first applications developed using Java FX should be on the market later this year." There's a big, wide world out there for Java programmers, but Israel is at the center of much of the Java action in the world. "We have large development centers in India, Ukraine, and other countries, as well as Israel," Schroeder says. But Sun leaves its most important development, for cellphones and handheld devices, for Israel. In fact, Israel is so important to Sun that the Java Technology Day was the first country-specific event the company holds after the company's major JavaOne conference, featuring developers from around the world, is in Israel. For that reason, Sun Israel is actively seeking Java programmers. Not only for Sun, but for the many companies developing products using Java that need qualified people, says Eli Mazuz, Marketing Manager for Sun Israel. The company has a program of "ambassadors" on college campuses here, spreading the message of Java open-sourceness and the bright future for those taking the Sun way. "We have recently begun a program to train university lecturers in Java technology, so they can introduce their students to it, thus encouraging them to learn the system," says Mazuz. For those already out of school, there are post-grad programs that offer Java training courses. Cutting edge technology and hi-tech job opportunities - that we can understand coming from a company like Sun. But world peace? Well, maybe not world peace, but most Israelis would be happy if we could start with the region. And Sun may have just the thing. Schroeder, who manages marketing teams in 85 countries, gets around and he says that while Israel is currently the most advanced hi-tech development site in the region, it is by no means the only one. Sun has facilities in Turkey and is planning to set up something in Cairo. The Egyptian government has set up a large high-tech industrial zone outside the city, and is very active in assisting companies with an incubator program, not unlike the ones sponsored by the Chief Scientist in Israel. As everyone in the hi-tech world knows, there are few things that break down stereotypes and mistrust as international joint application development, with programmers having to beat deadlines and trust other teams for components going into the final product. So far, Israel has had a pretty cold peace with Egypt - but who knows? One day soon, Israeli and Egyptian Java software developers could be collaborating on all sorts of projects, which would mean that, to its innovations in computer technology, Sun could chalk one up for diplomacy, as well.