Beginning Java: History in Brief

Java is one of the most popular, if not the most popular high level programming language. Java is widely used to program the web, mobile and desktop applications. This lesson examines why you should learn Java, history of Java and why it became so  widely popular.

Beginning Java: Why should you care?

Java is such a popular language that you would exclude yourself from a large group of capable programmers by choosing not to learn Java. Moreover, Java is one of the easier languages to learn. In fact, many programmers consider Java to be lingua franca  of programming.

The basic philosophy of the language has been “Write once, run everywhere”.  This implies that a Java application, once running properly on one platform is guaranteed to run properly everywhere else.

Therefore, if you want to learn one language that will allow you to program all devices from mobiles to high-end servers then it has to be Java.

The Java Coffee Logo
The Java Coffee Logo

Why was Java born?

Java was first publicly released in 1995 by Sun Microsystems. At the time most professional code of industry strength was being written in C and C++. C and C++ are highly operating system dependent languages. The behavior and usage of these languages can be different on different operating systems.

Sun Microsystems was a hardware company that made money primarily by selling RISC hardware. Their hardware ran an UNIX operating system called Solaris.  In 1995 Microsoft released the ground breaking and widely popular Windows 95 operating system. This OS supported a wider range of programming languages including C and C++. Microsoft’s philosophy of “Any programming language but Windows OS” further encouraged developers to make Windows as the platform of choice.

Sun Microsystems, as a counter measure, released a programming language called Java. Java is a operating systems neutral language. Meaning, an application written on any operating system will run on any other operating system without modification. This strategy, in those times, was dubbed as “Any OS but my programming language” in contrast to Microsoft’s “Any programming language but my OS”.

Java was a free language from the start. Sun Microsystems, in the initial years, viewed Java as an enabler for hardware sales. By providing a free, robust language Sun hoped that developers would switch to Java. Since any application written in Java would run fine on Solaris, immaterial of where it was developed, Solaris’s application count soared. As the number of applications compatible with Solaris increased, Sun hoped that so would its hardware sales.

What made Java so popular?

In one word: Applets. It appears silly now. But in the latter half of the 90’s applets were the rage. Applets were/are Java programs which could be delivered over the internet and would run on the clients’ operating system. The advent of HTML 5 and rising acceptance of JavaScript have rendered Applets obsolete now.

Of course, there were other things that made Java popular –

  1. The “Write once, run everywhere” was a big relief for developers who were deeply frustrated by C and C++’s “Write once, debug everywhere”.
  2. Java stood on the shoulders of giants. It accepted only the right set of features and steered away from controversial ones such as multiple inheritance.
  3. Java is strictly object oriented. In the 90’s and early half of first decade of this century, object oriented-ness was deemed as the only correct design methodology. Therefore, more and more developers embraced Java.
  4. Java is also a “Learn once, apply everywhere” language.  Once you learn Java, you can make everything from enterprise applications to web applications to mobile applications.
  5. Java derives from C. C is a popular language and first language for many developers. Java uses a C-like syntax. But avoids the “difficult” features such as pointer mechanics. This makes learning Java easier.
  6. Sun Microsystems, the original inventor of Java, had a likable image. Sun was considered epitome of “Do no evil”. No doubt, Sun’s image rubbed off on Java also.

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