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Last Friday I took the day off of work to attend NOVAJUG’s free DevIgnition conference at Oracle HQ in Reston. It was a very interesting and informative series of presentations, and I’m definitely glad I set aside the time to check it out.

The first presenter was Suman Cuddapah, an Oracle SOA Solutions Specialist. He gave an overview of the recently released Java EE 6 updates and talked about the path forward for OpenJDK 7. His talk was pretty high level, obviously with no surprise revelations. The most interesting bit I took from his talk was the modularity introduced with Java EE 6, so you can deploy only the modules you need and keep the server stack lightweight.

The second talk was about Netbeans projects, presented by Ryan Cuprak. He did a quick survey of IDE usage in the crowd and the overwhelming favorite was Eclipse. I felt like his talk was intended to be evangelism for the Netbeans IDE, but it got mired down in an exhaustive list of the various project templates Netbeans provides. I think his talk would have been more effective if he had tried to highlight the advantages Netbeans has over Eclipse. It seemed like there were a lot of issues with Netbeans’s ability to import projects from Eclipse, further putting off potential switchers.

The third presenter was Reza Rahman, talking about how Spring 3 and Java EE interact. He went through a lot of Java EE technologies like JPA, EJB3, JMS and web services and showed how they can interoperate with Spring. If you are familiar with Spring and like some of the flexibility it gives you, you can leverage the best of both worlds.

The fourth presenter was Jay Garcia, talking about the Sencha Touch product. Sencha Touch is a JavaScript framework which came from ExtJS. It helps you build websites for mobile devices. The functionality Jay demoed was very slick. It allows you to code sites to function just like apps do on iOS, with HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. This is not an area I have done any work in before, but it looked quite snazzy.

The next presenters were David Bock and Arild Shirazi, talking about their effort to rewrite a legacy Swing and EJB app with JRuby and Rails. Their demo was kind of hard to follow, but the prospect of leaving Swing behind for something better was appealing.

The next talk was by self-described Clojure ninja Bryan Weber. After working with Scala for a couple of years, Bryan grew frustrated by the complexity and made the switch to Clojure, a variant of Lisp that runs on the JVM. It seems like there is a bit of a rivalry between Scala and Clojure to be the functional programming king on the JVM. I admit that I am someone who harbors deep reservations about Lisp programming. Bryan talked about the sometimes steep learning curve with Clojure, but his enthusiasm for the language was inspiring. These days I’m diving into learning Scala, but I’ll be keeping an ear out for Clojure and trying to see how the two compare.

The final presenter was Arun Gupta, talking about Java EE 6 and GlassFish. He knew that it’s tough for the last presenter of the day, so he really brought the energy to his talk. He had a huge slide deck but skipped most of it to focus on demoing code. He showed how Netbeans and GlassFish tightly integrate to speed development. I was highly pleased to see that Java EE 6 makes most of the XML configuration files optional, because I hate those cryptic things. Instead you can annotate your code. You can set up GlassFish as a deployment destination for your Netbeans project, and then every time you save a code change, it is automatically deployed.

I know a lot of very smart people are anti-IDE because it hides a lot of complexity from developers, and then they don’t really know what’s going on under the hood so they can’t fix problems. I was thinking about that position while I watched Arun Gupta fly through his very well prepared demo, inserting code templates and modifying existing code to demonstrate features. I am just a lot more productive in an IDE than I would be without it. I guess that IDEs can hide bad coders’ lack of abilities, but they also allow good coders to get more done faster. And they can make for some great demos!

All in all, it was an enlightening day and I’m already looking forward to the next conference!

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