Celebrating 20 years of Java technology at JavaOne 2015

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Celebrating 20 years of Java technology at JavaOne 2015

By Cameron McKenzie

26 Oct 2015 | TheServerSide.com

At JavaOne 2015, attendees are celebrating a pretty significant milestone. Officially born in 1995, Java turns twenty this year, and everyone from the keynote speakers at the conference to the vendors in the exhibitors hall are doing what they can to put this impressive achievement into perspective. Looking back twenty, it really is amazing to see just how prescient Sun's Green Team was in terms of visualizing how an ecosystem of networked devices would one day completely change the world, and how long before that vision would ever make it to fruition, they were putting in place the building blocks that would one day make it happen.

To many, the rise of Java was serendipitous at best.

Java: Twenty years later

As part of a twenty year retrospective during the JavaOne opening keynote on Sunday October 25th, an old video of Green Team member James Gosling, the man often credited as being the Father of Java, previewing to the world the Star 7, an ugly hardware appliance that eluted from the fabled Green Project. The Star7 was a bulky little gadget, although given the size of cell phones in 1995 it probably looked slim and trim at the time. It was a little too big and square to fit in your hand, and it was certainly too big to be considered a personal data assistant (PDA). Feature wise, it came equipped with a radio antenna, PCMCIA expansion slots, a small LCD screen and a connector that would attach the device to a television. In many ways it is reminiscent of the ubiquitously popular Apple TV or MyGica boxes sold in stores today. Of course, most people have never heard of the Star7 device because it was by no means a commercial success. It was neat, but it was by no means a retail success. The big success that came out of the Green Project was Java, but even Java had a bit of a trepidacious start.

Initially, Java rose to glory due to the simultaneous emergence of the Internet. The fact that Java enabled browsers could provide dynamic and interactive content by running Java applets made a JRE installation a requirement for any serious Internet user. Taking advantage of the egalitarian, cross-platform nature of the JVM, applets were network savvy and could run on any machine, making them a perfect choice for delivering content to a variety of different devices. But the Internet evolved quickly, and a variety of new technologies usurped the Java applet in popularity, with JavaScript being the one disruptive technology that persists to this day.

Server-side Java to the rescue

But as applets lost their luster, Java moved to the server side as the cross platform programming language of choice for IBM, Sun, HP and a variety of other vendors who had played around with virtual machine technologies and failed. To this day, Java remains the enterprise platform of choice for the worlds biggest governments, financial institutions, insurance companies and research centers, and it will likely continue to be for another twenty years as well.

But to many, the rise of Java was serendipitous at best, as the original vision for these TV top Star7 boxes to find their way into every home in America was a failure. Java may have simply been a footnote in history if it wasn't for the emergence of the information age in which a bunch of interconnected, IBM-compatible, home-computers interacted while accessing stored information on back-end servers. In fact, over the past twenty years, it hasn't been uncommon to hear historians deride the inventors of Java for their lack of vision and inability to foresee the dawning of the information age, while instead, they pontificated about a world where an embedded device on one's toaster would communicate with the device running on one's lawn mower and coffee maker. But anyone who may have derided the founders of Java in the past over a lack of vision can't help but eat their words when they watch that old video of Gosling touting the technical merits of the Star7.

True visionaries

The fact is, as the Internet of Things becomes more pervasive, we're realizing that the Green Team at Sun did indeed have it right, if not a bit premature. In 2015, people are indeed purchasing lawn mowers that contain embedded software, and those lawn mowers are networking with the owners watch, which triggers something on their phone, which then downloads some data to their desktop computer which inevitably uploads that data to a server somewhere, and maybe, just maybe, it all ends up telling the toaster to do something as well.

The last twenty years have been bumpy ones for the Java language, as some projects like Java ME have failed, other products like Java Applets have fallen out of favor, and some technologies, like Java on the desktop, have stagnated. But the successes have been much greater than the failures, and the manner in which the Java language expands, adjusts and evolves to adapt to the shifts in the technology world, be it cloud computing or embedded device development for the Internet of Things, is a testament to the vision of the original engineering team that worked on the Green Project at Sun twenty years ago. Here's hoping, assuming that there is still a place for programming language in 2035, that Java will continue to grow and evolve and remain just as relevant twenty years into the future.

What do you consider to be Java's greatest accomplishment over the past 20 years? Let us know.

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