Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ESPN FFL and Java Web Start

I've been playing fantasy football for more than ten years. I started playing with friends from college. In fact our fantasy football league was the very first web site I developed. I maintained and enhanced it for a couple of years, passed it on to some of my other friends to run awhile, before we eventually started using a hosted site through CBS Sportsline. I've also played fantasy sports on ESPN for many years. In 1998, one of my fantasy basketball teams finished third overall out of all teams on ESPN. I would've won a leather jacket, if I didn't live in Florida where it was not allowed because it was too valuable a prize and would cause the game to be classified as gambling... I digress.

In short, I've been playing fantasy sports online for a decade. I decided to play on ESPN this year, and had my first draft on Sunday. I was surprised to see that ESPN was now using Java Web Start for their draft application. This mostly made sense as for years they used a Java Applet for it. Actually for several years their applet used Microsoft's Java "extensions" (the ones that caused Sun to sue Microsoft and force Microsoft to stop making their own Windows-integrates JVM) and would only work with Internet Explorer. ESPN has Flash more and more in recent years, so I expected them to switch to that for their draft application.

Instead they've gone to a more powerful Java application requiring the latest JVM from Sun, and used Web Start as a platform for distributing and launching the application from a browser. It's a great use of the technology and I am happy to report it was a very smooth draft. I've had many, many ESPN drafts that were plagued with all kinds of problems, especially in the late 90's. They've seemed to solve all the old problems, and I'm guessing using a more robust application via Web Start was a big part of that solution. Kudos to them.

Not to diss Flash. It has come a long way towards being a powerful application platform. I don't know enough about it to say if ESPN could have pulled off the same thing with Flash instead of using JWS, but JWS was surely a more straightforward upgrade path since their old drafting app was a Java applet.

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