The software that runs millions of smartphones and made the Internet more functional celebrates an anniversary this week. On April 8, 1991, James Gosling and a Sun Microsystems development team—then known as the “Green” development team, working on a project called “Oak”—began secretly working in earnest on what would become the Java programming language.
Java was originally written for a handheld controller to be used with digital cable television, but the cable industry wasn’t quite ready for the product. Gosling and co. went back to work, developing Java for the burgeoning Internet. The language was introduced to the world at large in a 1995 release of the Netscape Navigator browser. The ability to code Java applets into webpages brought new interactivity to the Internet (as well as expanded security challenges).
Java: The Good & The Bad
The same quality that makes Java genius is also its Achilles heel: its universality. Java is platform-independent, meaning it can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. (In other words, it’s a “Write Once, Run Anywhere” or WORA language.) The bytecodes Java produces can be transferred by network and then run on any Java Virtual Machine. Given how widespread Java is, it’s no wonder it’s a favorite target of the nefarious.
Oracle bought Sun Microsystems (and thus Java) in 2009, and after a brief stop at Google and several years at Liquid Robotics, Gosling joined Amazon Web Services in 2017. Although Java use in web development has dwindled with the advent of newer technologies, the language lives on in Android smartphones and countless other devices … not to mention a little game called Minecraft.