The death of applets

Today there’s an article on Javalobby asking if, thanks to JavaFX, are Java Applets Making a Comeback? Clicking into the example applet documenting Olympic medals hangs Firefox on my Mac every time. This is my usual experience with JavaFX. So I guess the answer to the headline is “no”. JavaFX, despite being ambitious and well-intentioned, is putting some nails into the coffin.

The thing is, I’ve always been a big fan of applets. They can be a great platform for rich clients and for amateur game development. They’ve never really been a “failed” technology; they just didn’t develop the momentum that Flash enjoys. If you have a captive audience, such as with business applications, you can be reasonably sure that all users have Java installed, go ahead and develop as an applet. Wanna write some toys? Give Slick or PulpCore a try.

In the long term though, I’d say that applets are doomed. Not because of the initial start-up time (which isn’t so bad) or the lower installation base (which is easily manageable) or massively bloated graphics libraries (just avoid). Applets are doomed because they’ll never run on iPhones or Android devices.

The big future for client development will be on mobile devices, so the most important platform is going to be the one that runs on smart phones and pads and netbooks as well as conventional desktops. The only horse to bet on is certainly HTML5.

The next question is what kind of development platform will emerge on top of HTML5. Much of Flash’s success is due to the tools that let graphics folks become productive application developers. Some of us will try crafting apps with just text editors, but that definitely won’t be sufficient to supply all the new devices.


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