Installing Java ... not for the faint hearted

At the weekend my cousin innocently commented to me that he was having some problems with his Java installation and asked if I could have a look for him.  He manages a fleet of lorries that go all over Europe and one of the tools he has is a real time tracker of where every driver and vehicle is.  This is given to him via a Java applet within a management web site.  It is works beautifully on his machine at work, but wanted to keep an eye on things when he was at home.

The problem was that FireFox, IE and AOL's browser was reporting a missing plugin, but when he went to install it, the installation routine noted that it was already installed and left him at that.  This is where a normal web user leaves it and forgets all about Java as that horrible thing that won't work.  Flash anyone?

 Well the problem stems from the fact that the previous installation attempt had not completed properly.  In their wisdom, Sun must be writing into the Windows registry that everything completed normally before it actually completes.  That wouldn't be quite so bad, if the installation program could verify for itself that Java was properly installed instead of relying on an entry in a registry that can be so easily be modified.  So lots of things here Sun could be doing but aren't.

Looking at the directories it was clear stuff was missing.  Infact it was missing so much that the de-installation program could not be found and therefore we couldn't actually progress any further.  Now the reasons why the installation didn't complete doesn't really matter, but it didn't and therefore one has to work with that eventuality.  You know what they say - Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups!  Only assume everything works if you can fire up a simple .class; until then treat it as failed.

I removed all the directories and cleaned out the registry, doing a search for all keys/values containing "J2SE" and removed all the entries.  Then fired up the installation program and proceeded to install Java.  All reported success.  Although, we've been down this avenue before, I wanted to see an applet run for myself.  I did not trust any verification routines on

Now speaking of Sun's consumer friendly Java site, here is a small challenge for you.  Goto and see if you can actually find an applet anywhere to test with. I couldn't. Oh plenty of flash plugins all spouting crap to me about how wonderful Java is for powering games and what have you.  But no actual evidence of any Java on the site itself.  I finally resorted to heading over to the demo's on the 1.5 developer site to view the clock running before I was satisfied.  The AOL browser would not find Java for love nor money and finally just gave up even trying.

Had my cousin not had access to a Java expert he would have thrown it out and went back to the Ajax alternative that was shipping (which by the way was a beautiful use of Google Maps  and various other wee toys).  I would like to say this is an isolated case, but my Fedora 5 desktop here with Firefox, has never run an applet in its life but its not for the lack of trying!

Will open sourcing Java make any difference here I am left wondering.  Could the community pick up this thorny beast and have another run at it?  Installation is always going to a hard nut to crack, but there are certain things that you should and shouldn't do; but relying on the Windows Registry as a real state of the system is naive at best, and darn right stupid at worse.  As they say, there are certain look-hanging-fruit that could be picked off with the current installation routine that would make life so much easier and hopefully encourage the use and uptake of Java.

Incidentally this was all performed remotely using VNC which worked beautifully; i love software that could fit on a floppy still give so much value


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