Enter Java

The Java coding language, developed at Oracle under the guidance of Net luminaries James Gosling and Bill Joy, is designed to be a machine-independent coding language that is both safe enough to traverse networks and powerful enough to replace native executable code. Java addresses the issues raised here and helps us start building the kinds of apps we want. Initially, most of the enthusiasm for Java centered on its capabilities for building embedded apps for the Web called applets. But in the early days, applets and other client-side GUI apps written in Java were limited. Today, Java has Swing, one of the most sophisticated toolkits for building graphical user interfaces (GUIs) in any language. This development has allowed Java to become a popular platform for developing traditional client-side app software. Of even more importance in the past few years, Java has become the premier platform for web-based apps and web services. These apps use technologies including the Java Servlet API, Enterprise JavaBeans?, and many popular open source and commercial Java app servers and frameworks. Java's portability and speed make it the platform of choice for modern business apps. This tutorial will show you how to use Java to accomplish all of these real-world coding tasks. In the coming chapters we'll cover everything from text processing to networking, building rich client-side GUI apps with Swing and lightweight web-based apps with XML.

Java's Origins

The seeds of Java were planted in 1990 by Oracle patriarch and chief researcher, Bill Joy. At the time, Sun was competing in a relatively small workstation market while Microsoft was beginning its domination of the more mainstream, Intel-based PC world. When Sun missed the boat on the PC revolution, Joy retreated to Aspen, Colorado to work on advanced research. He was committed to the idea of accomplishing complex tasks with simple software and founded the aptly named Sun Aspen Smallworks. Of the original members of the small team of programmers assembled in Aspen, James Gosling will be remembered as the father of Java. Gosling first made a name for himself in the early 80s as the author of Gosling Emacs, the first version of the popular Emacs editor that was written in C and ran under Unix. Gosling Emacs became popular but was soon eclipsed by a free version, GNU Emacs, written by Emacs's original designer. By that time, Gosling had moved on to design Sun's NeWS, which briefly contended with the X Window System for control of the Unix GUI desktop in 1987. Although some people would argue that NeWS was superior to X, NeWS lost because Sun kept it proprietary and didn't publish source code while the primary developers of X formed the X Consortium and took the opposite approach. Designing NeWS taught Gosling the power of integrating an expressive language with a network-aware windowing GUI. It also taught Sun that the Internet coding community will ultimately refuse to accept proprietary standards, no matter how good they may be. The seeds of Java's licensing scheme and open (if not quite "open source") code were sown by NeWS's failure. Gosling brought what he had learned to Bill Joy's nascent Aspen project. In 1992, work on the project led to the founding of the Sun subsidiary, FirstPerson, Inc. Its mission was to lead Sun into the world of consumer electronics. The FirstPerson team worked on developing software for information appliances, such as cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The goal was to enable the transfer of information and real-time apps over cheap infrared and packet-based networks. Memory and bandwidth limitations dictated small, efficient code. The nature of the apps also demanded they be safe and robust. Gosling and his teammates began coding in C++, but they soon found themselves confounded by a language that was too complex, unwieldy, and insecure for the task. They decided to start from scratch, and Gosling began working on something he dubbed "C++ minus minus." With the foundering of the Apple Newton, it became apparent that the PDA's ship had not yet come in, so Sun shifted FirstPerson's efforts to interactive TV (ITV). The coding language of choice for ITV set-top boxes was to be the near ancestor of Java, a language called Oak. Even with its elegance and ability to provide safe interactivity, Oak could not salvage the lost cause of ITV at that time. Customers didn't want it, and Sun soon abandoned the concept. At that time, Joy and Gosling got together to decide on a new strategy for their innovative language. It was 1993, and the explosion of interest in the Web presented a new opportunity. Oak was small, safe, architecture-independent, and object-oriented. As it happens, these are also some of the requirements for a universal, Internet-savvy coding language. Sun quickly changed focus, and, with a little retooling, Oak became Java.

Growing Up

It would not be overdoing it to say that Java caught on like wildfire. Even before its first official release when Java was still a nonproduct, nearly every major industry player had jumped on the Java bandwagon. Java licensees included Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and virtually all major hardware and software vendors. That's not to say that everything was easy. Even with all this support, Java took a lot of knocks and had some growing pains during its first few years. A series of breech of contract and antitrust lawsuits between Sun and Microsoft over the distribution of Java and its use in Internet Explorer has hampered its deployment on the world's most common desktop operating systemWindows. Microsoft's involvement with Java also become one focus of a larger federal lawsuit over serious anticompetitive practices at the company, with court testimony revealing concerted efforts by the software giant to undermine Java by introducing incompatibilities in its version of the language. Meanwhile, Microsoft introduced its own Java-like language called C# (C-sharp) as part of its .NET initiative and dropped Java from inclusion in the latest versions of Windows. But Java continues to spread on both high- and low-end platforms. As we begin looking at the Java architecture, you'll see that much of what is exciting about Java comes from the self-contained, virtual machine environment in which Java apps run. Java has been carefully designed so that this supporting architecture can be implemented either in software, for existing computer platforms, or in customized hardware, for new kinds of devices. Sun and other industry giants are producing fast Java chips and microprocessors tailored to run media-rich Java apps. Hardware implementations of Java are currently used in smart cards and other embedded systems. Today you can buy "wearable" devices, such as rings and dog tags, that have Java interpreters embedded in them. Software implementations of Java are available for all modern computer platforms down to portable computing devices, such as the popular Palm PDA. Java is also becoming standard equipment on many new cell phones.

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