History & Overview - Java: One Year Out | WebReference

History & Overview - Java: One Year Out

History & Overview

In order to understand Java's reception, a description of its welcoming committee is in order. After its release in May of 1995 the object-oriented programming language developed by Sun Microsystems sprang headlong into the world of the Internet and World Wide Web. Almost immediately, word across the Internet proclaimed Java to be the future of computing. Java had been released into an environment of explosive Internet growth stemming from the popularity of the World Wide Web with every conceivable user base. Business, academic, and personal users navigated and joined the growing numbers. New home pages appeared daily on the Web. In August of 1995, a study by CommerceNet and Nielsen found that 19.4 million users had accessed the Internet in the three months preceding the study's release. [4]

Initially the Web developed from an academic research model. Tim Berners-Lee of CERN in Switzerland sought to make use of the hypertext notion (i.e., text pointing to other text and accessible immediately with a point and click) so that scientists and researchers could dynamically reference and incorporate each other's work. The concept of hypertext was not a new one. Inspired by Vannevar Bush's Memex, Ted Nelson invented hypertext. Memex was the machine that would code the associations made by the mind in a weaving trail rather than the heretofore linear research processes exacted by the tools of the day. "The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain." [5]

Berners-Lee took hypertext and invented (1) the transfer protocol (HTTP = HyperText Transfer Protocol) necessary to transport information on the Web, (2) the URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) necessary to locate information on the Web, (3) the language (HTML = HyperText Markup Language) necessary to format documents and references to hypertext, and (4) the hypertext browser necessary to interpret the HTML documents.

Previous to Berners-Lee's inventions, Internet users worked with various toolsets, such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol), Gopher, Usenet newsgroups, and a number of UNIX flavors. Such detail had effectively limited Internet use to the more technical types and hobbyists. Hypertext and the Web incorporated FTP, Gopher, news, and e-mail so that a user could retrieve information without knowing its particular format or location. These facts alone contained the seeds for Internet growth among a new user base.

However, it wasn't until the Mosaic Web browser, developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's NCSA, was released in 1993 that the awareness of the Web became worldwide. Distributed freely over the Internet, Mosaic is a graphical Web browser bringing pictures and sounds to the formerly text-based environment. Picture Dorothy's technicolor visit to Oz after the gray of Kansas; this was the effect of the change. The impact of seeing the Louvre and hearing Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, for instance, rather than reading about them was a strong one. Not only were the visual and audio features alluring, but Mosaic also appealed to a wide user base already familiar with the visual point-and-click worlds of Microsoft Windows and the Apple Macintosh. In addition, the Web's flat structure and open system allowed anyone to participate. With access to a Web server and a cursory knowledge of HTML, anyone could put up pictures, songs, poems, recipes, research, art works, speeches, and on and on. Everyone from the Mona Lisa to Mary's mutt, from the President of the United States to the president of The Hair Club for Men had a place on the Web. Anyone could be a publisher.

Very soon, business started staking its claim on the Web. The InterNIC News for April 1996 lists 236,073 cumulative .com domain registries through February 1996 out of a total of 272,062. [6] The presence of advertising and marketing on the Web dramatically improved graphics. Gray pages broken up by cat photographs, rainbow rules, or colored balls were replaced by slick magazine-like images. Users and Web vendors alike pushed the Web's boundaries, bringing more design, interactivity, and multimedia to their sites. So much so that HTML standards have, as yet, consistently lagged behind HTML implementations. One of the main reasons behind this is the Netscape factor.

Netscape Communications Corporation's browser, Netscape Navigator, commands approximately 70% of the browser market. This large percentage signals that Netscape's inclusion of features has allowed its users to develop beyond other browsers' capabilities. Netscape provided methods for various formatting features, colors, tables, and support for audiovisual plug-in applications, among others. By consistently offering more features and by distributing its browser freely, Netscape has become the de facto standard; simply because it took the lead.

This fast-changing and creatively demanding environment welcomed each new technology that would permit interactivity. Into this environment, Java presented itself.

The massive growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web leads us to a completely new way of looking at development and distribution of software. To live in the world of electronic commerce and distribution, Java must enable the development of secure, high performance, and highly robust applications on multiple platforms in heterogeneous, distributed networks. [7]

Java began in the world of set-top boxes for interactive television (ITV) and personal digital assistants (PDAs) as a project to develop the architecture for consumer appliances. Java's creators believed that any component using a chip could be linked to any other component. These technologies failed to find their niche in the marketplace and after a few unsuccessful years of marketing Oak (Java's original name), Sun turned to the Web. The Web was then in its infancy and upon further research, Sun found that their language, which was developed for a wide variety of distributed applications, fit remarkably well in an environment defined by distributed applications.

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Copyright © 1996 Bridget W. Regan and
URL: http://www.webreference.com/java/intro.html
Created: May 17, 1996
Revised: July 31, 1996