Swing Hacks, Tips and Tools for Building Killer GUIs, by Joshua Marinacci and Chris Adamson. ISBN: 0-596-00907-0

Reviewed by: Songmuh Jong, November 2005
Published by: O'Reilly
Requires: JDK
MSRP: US$29.95, CA$41.95, UK£20.95

Unlike the core languages in C and C++ which basically ignore the graphical user interface (GUI), Java has been an excellent language that handles user interface creation and implementation pretty well from the beginning. The Abstract Window Toolkit (AWT) in Java has triggered a phenomenal success in the development of applets running on browsers. Swing is supposed to be the lightweight replacement for AWT and was a major part of Java Foundation Classes (JFC) before. Partly due to the competition from other web development tools and partly due to its complexity, the power of Swing has not gained the recognition it deserves. Nevertheless, Swing development has not stood still. Every new version of JDK adds enhancements to the Swing framework. Many Java developers also gain valuable experience with Swing over the years. In this book, the authors share their insightful expertise with this powerful toolkit.

This book is different from other books that cover early Swing. Instead of listing the lengthy API in Swing, the book is filled with delightful examples that cover many, if not all topics that are essential to user interface. Most of the tips in the book go beyond the standard requirements for business applications. Applying any of the tricks in this book will spice up your applications and make them stand out among the crowd.

The first few hacks in the book center on the design principals of Swing components. By overriding the paint method(s), it is amazing how many interesting effects can be achieved. The only problem that I have found is the runtime error for the few hacks on menus.

In addition to Swing, this books includes the discussion on Java Media Framework (JMF), which is not part of the JDK download. Because of this, there is a whole section on audio. Mac readers will be happy to find many hacks specifically targeting the Mac OS X development environment. Contrastingly, when I compiled and ran the WaveformDisplaySimulator in Windows 2000 Pro using either JDK1.4 or JDK1.5, I got "java.io.IOException: mark/reset not supported" error. Although it can be easily fixed, it quickly adds up the frustration for readers.

There are a total of 100 hacks in the book. Images, Text and Font, List, Table and Tree, Windows, Drag & Drop establish the major hack topics which are covered. The coverage on JTree is surprisingly light, but there is a heavy coverage on FileChooser. All the examples can be downloaded from the book's web site. Compiling the examples is mostly effortless except for correcting some deprecated methods. Running the examples, however, is not totally smooth which merely helps emphasize that Hacks, by definition, are not perfect.

This is a rich collection of various tips on using Swing. It is one of the few books that one would want to keep on the desktop for handy reference. Any GUI developer using Java will find that this is an indispensable companion for development. Highly recommended.

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