Freshly ground

What’s the relevance of the Java desktop in a world that’s tilting towards mobile?

Geertjan Wielenga

Geertjan Wielenga quizzes the authors of “NetBeans Platform for Beginners” about why they want to add to the Java desktop conversation at this stage in the game.

Freshly released publication “NetBeans Platform for
Beginners” (, by Jason Wexbridge
and Walter Nyland, is a 360 page guide to the modular architecture
of Java desktop applications. What’s the relevance of the Java
desktop in an increasingly mobile world, why did the authors write
this book, and what do they think about Java 8? I decided to ask
them these questions, and here’s what they had to

Wielenga: What’s the point of writing a completely new
book about the Java

Walter Nyland (WN): 
The question makes sense in some
respects. But, in other respects, if you’re writing any kind of
serious application that needs to be cross-platform and
maintainable over decades, there are very few options at one’s
disposal. Simply put, the Java desktop is awesome. The best books
on this subject are really outdated and we thought a new one is
sorely needed.

Jason Wexbridge (JW): Indeed. We work on
management/monitoring tools, which need to visualize large amounts
of data, and we have no need for the browser at all. The only
benefit of the browser is accessibility, while we create
applications for confined sets of users, e.g., air traffic
controllers in a shared control room or underwater vehicle
analysts, to name just two scenarios. For example,
here’s NATO’s management console for monitoring and
the execution of air operations in a real-time
environment, on the Java desktop, making use of the NetBeans

There are heaps of similar scenarios, mostly ignored in all the
hype and buzz. JavaScript and HTML simply doesn’t cut it and is a
nightmare to maintain over time.

The book you have put together has as its subtitle “Modular
Application Development for the Java Desktop”. What’s the relevance
of “modularity” and how does the book approach this

JW: Well, modularity is
the key to maintainability. Since Java itself does not provide
modularity, other solutions need to be found, if you want to create
any kind of medium to large size application. OSGi is an obvious
candidate, but in our scenarios we need more than OSGi. We also
need a docking framework, for example, and a synchronization
framework for maintaining interaction across multiple sets of data
in related windows. 

WN: Yeah, all that plumbing is just a
nightmare to set up. And our users simply assume it will be there,
they don’t actually pay for their plumbing, only for their
domain-relevant layers in the application. We had a range of
per-built Swing components that needed a modular home with
extensible GUI containers to hold them, such as the aforementioned
docking framework.

JW: When you add up all the above
requirements, the only answer is to use the NetBeans Platform. We
didn’t want to rewrite our components to SWT to make them fit with
Eclipse RCP. Plus, we find Eclipse RCP to be way too heavyweight
and slow, especially compared to the NetBeans Platform. Gives you
everything you need, really. Except a complete and thorough guide
to help you through the learning curve.

Right. Everything’s a bit spread around, in terms of
 Can you tell us a bit about
the book you wrote?

JW: It’s the book we wish we had when we
started creating serious applications.

WN: We simply put everything in there
that we’ve learned over the years. We’ve also learned about other
books on this topic. We wanted our book to combine the best of a
reference manual with the best of a tutorial. So, each chapter
begins with an extensive theoretical overview and ends with step by
step tutorials, with all the source code on GitHub. And
here is the end point of one of the key scenarios discussed in the
book, again the sources are on GitHub, a drag-and-drop
visualization of an underlying data model:


JW: Our reviewers have been very
positive and encouraging. They’ve indicated that the book is far
more than a beginner’s guide, since it covers a lot of more
detailed content, also covering areas not dealt with anywhere else
before. It builds slowly from basic concepts, with chapters
dedicated to key terms, such as “Module”, “Lookup”, and

What do you think about the latest developments in Java in
this area, in particular JavaFX and Java 8?

WN: Java 8 is certainly
interesting, especially the functional style of programming. That
can potentially completely change the way we think about
programming in Java, though probably only library developers will
make use of these possibilities initially. Parallelism and the
world of multi cores is obviously great for the type of large
applications we’re involved in creating, so we’re looking forward
to becoming even more relevant than we have been on the Java

JW: In terms of JavaFX, we’re not completely
convinced. Most of the applications we work on in
surveillance/monitoring applications don’t necessarily need the
kinds of components and solutions that JavaFX provides, though it’s
always interesting to be aware of the advantages they bring. For
us, a modular architecture with patterns for loose coupling is
really all we need. The rest, we can create ourselves, we have
built up internal libraries of components — all that was missing
was a coherent system to encapsulate and display them all to the
user. And we have found that in the NetBeans Platform.

Together with “NetBeans Platform for Beginners”, you’ve
released “Exercises in Porting to the NetBeans

JW. Right. In “Exercises in Porting to the NetBeans
Platform” ( we basically
provide exercises one can do, based on “NetBeans Platform for
Beginners”. We’re hoping to interact with our readers and hear from
them the kinds of exercises or scenarios they’d like us to cover.
So, it’s a book continually in process, we hope to add a new
exercise every week or so.

Finally, any final words for readers of this

JW: Don’t be misled by buzz and hype. For industrial
applications that need to be maintainable for years to come,
JavaScript completely fails. Java is the answer and you need more
than Java. You need an application framework based on open Java
standards, which is the NetBeans Platform.

WN: My final words would be – the Java
desktop is a cool place to be. Come and join us (and our book is

Geertjan Wielenga

Geertjan Wielenga

All Posts by Geertjan Wielenga

Geertjan Wielenga is a principal product manager in Oracle for NetBeans and has been a member of the NetBeans Team since 2004
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