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In the mid-1990s, when early internet users were first exposed to the online world via AOL CD-ROMs, websites were static places. You could find text, graphics, and some choppy audio and video. But that was about to change with the Java applet, first demonstrated in Sun Microsystems’ HotJava browser on Sept. 29, 1994. In this week’s Tech Time Warp, we will dive into the history of HotJava.

HotJava was released for public use in 1997, with Sun Microsystems’ press release stating: “HotJava Browser 1.0 is a powerful tool that allows developers to quickly create their own style in the user interface or create network applications that use URLs and HTTP to transport and locate information… HotJava Browser is completely customizable and lets any business create a browser-based user environment that is in its own image.” In other words, HotJava set the stage for websites as we know them today, including websites now easily created using tools such as Wix and Weebly.

HotJava’s impact on user experience and interface design

The Java applet and ultimately the Javascript programming language made it possible for gaming, customized content and, for better or worse, online advertising. While HTML markup told a webpage how to look, Java told the webpage what to do—and within the confines of the HotJava browser, it could tell the webpage what to do in a platform-agnostic environment without the user installing any additional software. In other words, it powered “executable content.”

Naturally, these newfound powers did cause some concern, particularly for user experience. User advocate Jakob Nielsen offered this sage advice: “My advice at this stage is to be fairly conservative in introducing new user interface elements in HotJava. A basic user interface design principle is minimalism: very often, less is more, and you can improve your user interface by removing features that do not help users. As a simple thought experiment, consider what would happen to the UI if you were to remove a certain design element: if the interface would work equally well, you should probably go ahead and kill the design element.” In other words, less is more.

The final release of HotJava was in late 2004. Perhaps because developers didn’t heed Nielsen’s advice, HotJava was rather clunky and slow and was never really a player in the browser wars.

Did you enjoy this installation of SmarterMSP’s Tech Time Warp? Check out others here.

Photo: Andrey Suslov / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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