Show & Tell: NetBeans & Java at the PanamaJUG Congress

(February 2008)

When Fabiola Rios accepted an invitation to give a presentation at the first-ever PanamaJUG Congress she was fully aware of the challenge ahead: “Panama is mainly Microsoft territory, and programmers there develop with Visual Basic, C and .Net.”

Encouraging Java and NetBeans adoption in rival territory was the goal of the two-day conference which was organized by PanamaJUG president and NetBeans Dream Team member Aristides Villarreal Bravo, and held in mid-December 2007.

NetBeans Mobility Engineer Fabiola Rios at the PanamaJUG Congress
Fabiola Rios

Rios, a NetBeans Mobility software engineer, started her session with an introduction to Java ME development, an overview of the growing mobile applications market and the advantages of using development tools such as the NetBeans IDE's Mobility features to build slick applications. But developers can be a tough bunch to sway just with talk alone and she moved quickly into a demo.

“NetBeans is a new tool in Panama,” she said. “People still work from scratch and I wanted to show them how easy it was to create a real mobile application in a matter of minutes with the IDE.”

PanamaJUG president and NetBeans Dream Team member Aristides Villarreal Bravo
Aristides Villarreal Bravo
To establish credibility with the audience, she opted to use a borrowed phone for the demo. She created a simple SMS application, deployed it and sent a message to another phone. The audience was sold. There were no empty seats at her hands-on lab the following day.

Java enlightenment, one could say, begins with a bit of show-and-tell.

 For Villarreal Bravo, a long-time Java developer and NetBeans user, the idea of the PanamaJUG Congress took root because he often encountered students and developers who expressed frustration with learning Java or professed ignorance about the NetBeans IDE.

“People thought that Java was difficult to learn, and that other visual and fast development tools like those of Microsoft didn't exist.”

What was needed, he reasoned, was an opportunity to showcase the benefits of Java as a programming language and the NetBeans IDE as a tool for learning and for creating a wide range of applications. He reached out to several Java specialists such as Rios and her fellow NetBeans engineers Tomasz Slota and Rodrigo Andueza Gallardo, and asked if they were interested in presenting at the conference.

Rodrigo Gallardo at the PanamaJUG Congress
Rodrigo Gallardo
The 80-plus attendees at the event turned out to be a fitting microcosm of the trend that prompted Villarreal Bravo into action—many had no prior experience with the NetBeans IDE or were new to Java. Over the course of the two-day conference, they participated in talks about Java ME, JavaFX, web development and the NetBeans IDE. NetBeans Globalization Manager Janice Campbell was also on hand to discuss efforts to translate the IDE for Spanish-speaking developers. By the end of the conference, most attendees wanted to know if a second event was in the works.

Students who attended have formed new Java groups on their campuses; a number of companies are giving the NetBeans IDE a closer look for their development needs, Villarreal Bravo said. He called the feedback positive and encouraging, but not completely unexpected since companies and universities in the wider Central American region are starting to pay more attention to open source technologies.

“Universities want their students to learn Java with ease and to use open source tools, and companies want high quality tools as well” he said. “NetBeans is a simple-to-use and powerful open sourced IDE that meets these needs.”

The growing appeal of open source technologies in many Latin American countries is a pragmatic one and offers NetBeans an advantage.

NetBeans evangelist Tim Boudreau, who embarked on an 11-day, 13-city tour of South American universities with community manager Bruno Souza in October and November 2007, explained:

“No [government or company] needs to fear that by using Java they will make themselves dependent on some corporate entity because the source is always there to do with whatever they want. This makes us, as a tool for Java, more compelling.”

Boudreau's whirlwind tour which included stops on campuses in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, sought to increase awareness of Java, NetBeans and other open source technologies among the next wave of developers. Like the PanamaJUG, the reception for the university tour was enthusiastic, with faculties motivated to integrate Sun technologies into their projects and students asking for tips about creating user groups.

The interest in NetBeans and Java shows no signs of stopping as new fans of the IDE across the region undertake evangelism efforts similar to those of Villarreal Bravo's PanamaJUG Congress.

Ruben Hernandez, for example, is organizing a NetBeans Day, in Maracaibos, Venezuela on February 16.

The teaching assistant and Computer Science major at Rafael Belloso Chacin University has been using the NetBeans IDE for a year and a half, and says he has not been able to find a better IDE. His goal for NetBeans Day is a clear one:

“I want to bring this awesome IDE to every developer out there.”

Additional Links

Photos from PananaJUG Congress
Java ME session & NetBeans Mobility Hands-on Lab

Photos from NetBeans South American University Tour
Fortaleza, Brazil
Montevideo, Uruguay
Buenos Aires, Argentina

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