Our new Java Scene Graph is open sourced
Today Sun announced the open sourcing (GPL) of the new Java scene graph that underlies JavaFX script. And I'm very, very excited about it.
What is a Scene Graph?
First, you may be wondering: What is a scene graph? It's a retained mode API. This means that you pass shapes and other graphics objects to the library and let it draw them on screen whenever a refresh happens. The API retains the graphics objects. This is different than Java2D which is an immediate mode API. This means that your code is called whenever the screen must be refreshed and you must invoke graphics drawing operations which draw to the screen immediately.
So why is one better than the other? Well, a scene graph saves you the headache of caching, dealing with repaints, worrying about clipping rectangles, and many other annoying details of writing graphics code. It lets you focus on what your code should do, not how it does it. This makes writing graphically rich applications much easier. The scene graph also has built in support for filters like blurs, glows, and shadows. And it works seamlessly with Swing components.
And finally, because so much of the graphics is abstracted away, the implementation can perform many interesting optimizations in the future, like preloading textures and primitives up to the graphics card. In short, it's a higher level of abstraction, just like going from assembly to C. You can still get down to the assembly level when you need to, but most of time you work at the higher levels.
Why this is good?
First of all, Java has needed a scene graph for a while. There have been several open source ones but not of them were terribly fast, and none of the could take advantage of pipeline hooks for hardware acceleration. Project Scene Graph, on the other hand, is built by the guys who work on Java2D, and we have the potential for all sorts of great acceleration (think pixel shaders). Since this scene graph supports the new JavaFX runtime, and my job is writing tools for JavaFX, I'm happy that it will be as fast as possible. You don't have to use JavaFX Script, though.
Second, I'm very excited that we are open sourcing this code right from the start. It hasn't been included in a shipping version of Java yet, but instead of waiting (sometimes for years) we are open sourcing it before it ships. This is huge, and another example of Sun (my employer) doing open source right. (A fact that I'm thrilled about, as you can imagine).
Third, this is a Java API. While it's initial purpose was to support JavaFX Script you can (and I have) code directly in Java. This means the API is useful not only from JavaFX and Java applications, but also from Groovy, Python, Ruby, and any other JVM based language.
Zeroth of all, scene graphs are awesome. I've been wanting one for ages. They are a great way to build up interactive graphics. They let you focus on what your app does and let the API do the heavy lifting. I've been playing with it for a while and I'm positive we are going to see some really cool apps coming out of this. In fact, I've got a few cool demos up my sleeve which you'll see soon.
BTW, this announcement has nothing to do with the secret I told you about last week. You've still got to wait a few more days for that.
Posted December 11th, 2007