Masthead CMC Magazine October 1, 1995 / Page 4


Java Takes Manhattan

by John December (

NEW YORK--Sharing the stage with a giant coffee cup on scaffolding three meters high, Ruth Hennigar, the General Manager of Sun's Java Group, welcomed hundreds of attendees to Java Day, a seminar introducing Sun Microsystems' Java, the newest jolt of technology to hit the Web. Hennigar characterized her job as currently the "hottest on the planet," and, if the new Java technology demonstrated during the day was any indication, Java promises to heat up the Web very dramatically very soon.

The real news to come out of Java day was that Java technology is rapidly becoming part of information software. Arthur van Hoff of Sun demonstrated a Java-enabled Netscape Navigator 2.0 browser. The public beta version of Netscape 2.0 is is expected to be available very soon from Netscape, with final release of the 2.0 browser by year's end.

Sun Microsystems, of course, is also committed to Java in a big way. Besides releasing upgrades in the Java language and associated tools, Sun will soon announce an objects development environment for Java.

Java and the Net

"The Network is the Computer."

-- George Gilder

The first Java Day speaker was Sun Chief Techology Officer Eric Schmidt. He crystallized the significance of Java's impact on the current World Wide Web by characterizing the Java-enabled Netscape browser as the "new universal desktop interface." According to Schmidt, a Java-enabled browser is an information appliance, integrating networked communication, software distribution, and information sharing on networks connecting many kinds of computers. By serving as a unbiquitous architecture-neutral platform, the Java language can shift the focus of computation and interaction from the server to the client in the client/server model. Schmidt called the Java language the "holy grail of programming," predicting its impact on computing will be as dramatic as the impact of DOS and Microsoft Windows in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Schmidt underscored the significance of Java's platform independence. Java offers a "write once, run anywhere" capability. Programmers can break the application programmer interface (API) "lock" (Most notably, Schmidt mentioned the Microsoft Windows API lock). Java thus has the potential to truly transform the network into the computer.

The New Web

Larry Webber, Vice President and General Manager of SunSoft's Developer Products Group, described Java Objects Environment (JOE) that Sun is expected to announce soon. JOE is a toolset for Solaris systems which will help developers create HTML documents. Written in Java, JOE contains key tools for creating, publishing, and maintaining applets.

The Emergent Network

Danny Hillis of MIT gave a "big picture" talk for Java Day's keynote speech. He drew an analogy between the way biological lifeforms and computer and communication systems evolve. Hillis traced the origin of life in DNA growing from a set of expressions and rules to communication and communities. Key in this development were language, culture, society, and systems for codifying and passing information, including networks.

He characterized Java as a new step because it enables computation instead of merely communication to transmitted in Net communication. Messages get more complex and active with Java, enabling a more "emergent behavior" from networks. Hillis said that perhaps this may lead to the time when the Net will "do surprising things we don't know about."

Java's Role in a New Network


-- Marc Andreesen, on first seeing Java

Bill Joy, founder and Chief Technical Officer for Java Products at Sun Microsystems, also speculated on Java's significance. He derided Microsoft's efforts for displaying "not a whole lot of innovation... cloning UNIX and Macintosh interfaces ten years after [their invention by others]." Joy characterized the Interet as the dominant platform to focus on in the future. The key won't be in hardware, but the Net plus software.

Joy described this new Net as a space encompassing both the microcosm and the telecosm. As components, this new Net has threads, URLS, expressive languages, and three-dimensional views. The new structure in this Net may be in the form of applications in information (a Java applet on a Web page, for example) as opposed to the old structure: information in an application (data in a spreadsheet program, for example).

Joy re-emphasized how Java breaks the lock on the user's software choices: a user is not limited to the applications or information that is on his or her machine. Instead, information and applications can be distributed across networks. Joy called Java a "grail" language because of its simplicity and flexibility in a network environment. Java, as Joy pointed out, is much simpler than C++, and this simplicity is key to relieving the obscurity of and over-complexity as well as non-object-oriented aspects of C++.


For the rest of Java Day, many speakers demonstrated Java applications. Organizations participating in these demonstrations included Market Vision,, DimensionX, HotWired, and Netscape.

Karl Jacob, CEO of DimensionX demonstrated his company's work in integrating Java into its products. He demonstrated the web site for Sega's game Vectorman. He pointed out that today VRML enables only the creation only of "static, cold places." But VRML plus Java (in work such as their iced Java) adds life to VRML worlds and three-dimensional models.

Toward The New Java

Sun's goal is to be the major software supplier on the Net, and Java's development and release this year seems certain to further this goal.

A pre-Beta version of Java for Sun Solaris platforms is now available. This pre-beta version doesn't have all the functionality of the beta release (which is expected in October), but it includes a range of classes that are expected to remain stable for the beta and the later full release of Java, which is expected by year's end. [CMC TOC]

John December is author of Presenting Java (Indianapolis: Sams.Net), and the article, "Impressions of Java Day," in this issue.

Copyright © 1995 by John December. All Rights Reserved.

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