Future looks surprisingly bright for cross-platform, object-oriented Java
Give me a J. Give me an A. Give me a V. Give me another A. What's that spell?
Java! So now I'm cheerleading for Java, from Sun Microsystems Inc., which
until recently I underestimated as a standard interpreter for extending Web
browsers. In November I was upbeat about Java but took care to distinguish it
from Telescript, General Magic Inc.'s interpreted programming language for
Internet agents. (See "Here comes Telescript again, and this time it's on the
World Wide Web," Nov. 6, 1995, page 59.)
Well, much to my surprise, Java has blown Telescript away. I don't feel bad
about underestimating Java because it surprised everybody else, including Sun.
Insiders say Java survived two or three false starts before resonating with
frustrated IS managers and developers. See _http://www.sun.com_.
I see now that Java is not just a language for small programs ("applets") to
be downloaded and interpreted on various browsers. Java is also a language for
small programs ("servlets") to be uploaded and interpreted on various
servers. Java servlets will initially lack some powerful capabilities of
Telescript agents -- such as the GO instruction and resource permissions --
but it's time to say: good-bye Telescript and hello Java.
Java is not just a language for applets and servlets. It burst onto the scene
as a safe, cross-platform execution environment for Web browser applets, and
to that use the Java Virtual Machine is restricted for safety -- to protect
your machine from damage due to bugs or viruses. But outside the browser, Java
is a full-blown programming language. Experts I trust say that Java could
eventually displace C and C++. Java is becoming what C++ should have been:
object-oriented, yes, but not so complicated and not so backward-compatible
with all the warts and dangers of C.
If Java is ever to replace C and C++, it cannot remain an interpreted
language. So Java users have now been promised all the modern programming
tools, and compilers in particular. Coming soon are so-called just-in-time
compilers that increase Java's speed 10 times.
Neither is Java just software. Sun is working on hardware for the
performance-sensitive activities of the Java Virtual Machine. Sun hopes to
sell Java hardware widely.
Java is not just a language and chips. The Java Virtual Machine comes with
object classes that make it an "operating environment." Without such an
environment, C++ offers limited compile-time portability, not Java's
dependable cross-platform downloadability.
Java's environment promises vast improvements in software administration.
This explains the surprising interest in Java by InfoWorld readers. What's
more, developers find Java appealing, especially smaller ones with limited
resources for cross-platform development and shrink-wrap distribution.
Neither is Java just an operating environment to be hosted on your current
platforms. Just as Windows was initially called an operating environment, Java
will prove an important new operating system to run directly on new,
especially non-Wintel, platforms. Java stations will make great Internet
terminals, replacing the last 3270s for starters. Someone has already written
a 3270 emulator in Java.
I urge you to demand a good story from your computer and software vendors
about Java. One software vendor with whom you should be especially demanding
is Microsoft. To its credit, Microsoft has licensed Java and agreed to ship it
in Windows. Microsoft should pursue Java with everything it has and try to
beat Sun at its own game -- everyone would benefit. Microsoft should not fall
back on saying that Java is, if you insist, just another programming language,
not quite as good as Basic, for programming Web applets. Microsoft should not
be allowed to try using its Windows monopoly to kill Java.
A suggestion for speeding things along might be for Sun to give comfort to
competitors by spinning off its new Java unit. Just think of the valuation
Java would attract in the bizarre stock market that now exists for Internet
public offerings. What should they call it? Javascape?
Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com Corp. in 1979. He
receives E-mail at email@example.com_ via the Internet.
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