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Happy Birthday Java!

We are in 2015 and this year we celebrate the 20 years of Java, the language with which Silverpeas is mainly coded. We take this opportunity to remind the context from which Java is born.

For those who do not know its history, Java was born and has been successful as we know it after some fortunate circumstances.

The history started in the early 90's. At this time, in the context of a set-top box project, Sun Microsystems were looking for a commercially viable Object-Oriented language. With this goal in mind, negotiations were in place with ParcPlace Systems, an editor of a Smalltalk environment, to buy some licenses of their solution, VisualWorks (ObjectWorks at this time). The choice was judicious because Smalltalk was (and is always) a highly productive and living development environment; Smalltalk, from which Alan Kay coined the Object-Oriented Programming, was a very far ahead of his time (imagine an IDE like IDEA IntelliJ in the 90's!).

But the deal didn't happen and this for two reasons:

  • the price of the VisualWorks licenses were too expensive,
  • in the same time, a language born in the Sun's labs caught Bill Joy's eye, co-founder of Sun.

This language, Oak, was initiated in 1991 by James Gosling, Mike Sheridan, and Patrick Naughton, in the Green Team, that was fully staffed at 13 people. Their goals was first to implement a language atop of a virtual machine that has a familiar C-like notation but with greater uniformity and simplicity than C++, and second to target it to devices other than the computer. But the year 1993 saw the demise of set-top boxes and interactive TVs. They had to figure out what to do with their technology. In the same year, NSCA unveiled its new commercial web browser for the Internet, Mosaic, that revolutionized people's perceptions; the Internet has been transformed into a media content moving network by using HTML. This caught the Green Team's attention and they thought the Internet would be the next wave of computing. They worked then to build a better browser in which an application can be embedded into a Web page, leveraging then the capabilities of the Web: WebRunner. In 1994, after discovering the name "Oak" was a trademark by Oak Technologies, the language was renamed as Java and WebRunner was renamed HotJava.

In 1995, two events accelerate the publishing of Java in the industry. Early in 1995, John Gage, director of Sun's Science Office, and James Gosling give a demo of HotJava at the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference in Monterey. The public, a gathering of Internet and entertainment professionals, were amazed in front of a show of an applet in which a 3D molecule was rotated with the Gosling's mouse movement. By March 1995, a full public version of Java 1.0a was released on the Internet and it was downloaded in thousands times in just some months, well above the team's expectations. But it was in May 1995, at the SunWorld Conference, during the morning's keynote speech, that HotJava and the Java platform were officially presented to the public. The announce was followed by the revelation of the Netscape Vice-President's Marc Andreessen about the agreement with Sun to integrate Java technology into Netscape Navigator. In January 21 1996, Java 1.0 was released. In December 12 1999, J2EE 1.2 was released. We are in 2015 and Java 8 was released last year.

Beside the growing interest for the Web, what facilitated the success of Java is also the principles on which it is built:

  • Simple, object-oriented and familiar;
  • Robust and secure;
  • Architecture-neutral and portable;
  • High performance execution;
  • Interpreted, threaded and dynamic.

And it is always on these principles Java continues to evolve, at this time under the umbrella of Oracle that bought Sun Microsystems in 2010.

Happy birthday Java!