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ARCHIVED  January 1, 1996

Java gives jolt to staid software programming

If someone said “Java,” you probably think of espresso, right? No more. The latest Java has nothing to do with coffee – it’s the biggest revolution in software programming, particularly for the Web.
Developed along with a Java-enabled Web browser called Hot Java by Sun Microsystems in Mountain View, Calif., Java may just bring CD-ROM quality and amazing interactivity to a screen near you.
“It’s the difference between a telegraph and a telephone, between black and white and a color television,´ said John Sumner, a technology manager at Sun.
Announced in May, it’s taking off big-time. While a few months ago, establishing a Web home page was enough to win a company or individual a place among the information cognoscenti, many of multimedia’s hippest designers deride today’s Web pages as “static and boring,´ said Eric Stewart, developer with Longmont’s First Link Consulting. “Java perks up a site. Web pages come alive, making them more interactive.”
Seeing a Java demo for the first time is amazing. Clicking on an icon makes it come alive, giving an audible greeting and taking on an animated form.On another page, Duke, a red-nosed, molar-shaped imp that is Hot Java’s mascot, performs cartwheels and back flips in a looped animation.
“The traditional browser does not have this level of interactivity,” Stewart said.
Java is the result of six years of work and millions of dollars. Sun development started in 1989 with a super-secret project called Green, which was seeking a way to control consumer appliances such as toasters and light switches. No go. The project, next called Oak, was then redirected into the set-top box arena. Again, no go.
Java finally ended up with a focus on software development in networking environments, the most popular of which is the Web. You can run the Java “applets” – mini-programs specific to a particular Web site – in either Hot Java on Windows 95, Netscape 2.0, or in other browsers that support them.
Seeing Java is one thing. Explaining it is another. Sun’s definition: “Java is a simple, object-oriented, distributed, interpreted, robust, secure, architecture-neutral, portable, high-performance, multithreaded and dynamic language.
Translation: It’s a programming language that enables a Web browser on most any platform to launch applets without requiring any additional software on your end. These applets include animations, games, layout enhancements – gee-whiz gadgetry to the max.
Here’s how it works: “Up to now, you had to activate applications on the Web from your computer (known as the client computer). The application went to the server, which executed the command, then returned the command to the client computer. Java allows programs to run locally, on your computer, live, right there, quickly,” Stewart said. “This means that you don’t have to deal with Netlag after you’ve downloaded an applet. It saves megabytes of memory.”
In other words, “The Web turned the Internet into a giant disk drive,” said Mark Pesce, a San Francisco-based co-creator of VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language, or 3-D for the Web). “Java turns the Internet into a giant processor.”
However, “most news articles about Java have portrayed it as a simple extension to HTML (Hypertext Markup Language),´ said Tom Cargill, Boulder consultant specializing in C++ and object-oriented technology. ” It’s really a far more complex, rich, full-blown object-oriented programming language derived from C++, yet much simpler. Many commands that lead to errors are eliminated entirely.”
Currently, Cargill is using Java to design robotics simulation. Gary Moore, of Fort Collins-based Moore Information Services, is using a Java script to develop a Web image map of Fort Collins’ businesses.
“Wherever you place your cursor, the location and business name automatically pops up. If the business has a Web site, the script opens the Web page for you. You can’t do that with HTML scripting.”
Other Web applications abound: Fantasy sports players will be able to see complete, up-to-date statistics for every player and game, make trades in real-time and follow their favorite teams with customized scorecards and news.
“Big brokerage firms can use it to their advantage,” Stewart noted.
On one application he’s developing, “you can see a real time ticker of selected stocks scrolling across the top of the screen with up-to-the- minute quotes. On the same page, the changing stock prices can be rendered in graphic format.”
Over at Outside Online in Estes Park, Web developer Michael Floyd described his latest Java-enhanced project.
“A mountain biker who selects a particular trail map could chat online with others in the same area, trading information about trail conditions, directions and hazards. Such live chats are a staple of on line services and other parts of the Internet, but have not been possible over the Web.”
“It’s a kick start for a new category of applications,” Sun’s Sumner said.
That’s why even Microsoft announced that it will license Java for use with their own browser, the Internet Explorer, and IBM, Spyglass, Apple, Semantic and others have followed suit. One version of an applet can run on Unix, Windows 95, and the Mac OS, and IBM is porting Java to O/S2.
“Java’s multiplatform capability frees developers to focus on writing good code,
instead of on the details of various platforms,” consultant Cargill noted. Java does have some downsides. Java is unfriendly to 14.4 and even 28.8 modems, Moore said, but he’s most concerned about viruses.
“Supposedly, the Java language is secure and you can’t write a virus into it. But my programming experience makes me think you can’t secure a language that way. If you tinker with the Java script and inadvertently add a virus, then upload the applet to your page, if someone launches it – boom, they’ll get a virus,” he said.
Not so, noted Sumner. “Sun took out the dangerous parts of the C++ language. Most viruses need free access to memory and file directories to do their work. But a Java applet can access only a single folder on the user’s hard drive.”
Stewart said that another drawback is that it’s another language to learn, with a new set of interface objects you have to deal with.
“It’s orders of magnitude more complex than HTML – the average Visual Basic or even C++ programmer will find Java tough going at first.”
Most Web companies, he speculated, are just design companies with a lot of computers; when it comes to software engineering in Java, they have very little background and will not be able to compete.
Despite its drawbacks, Cargill said, “I’ve never seen anything like this (Java phenomenon) before at this stage of its development. One way to measure its impending success is the number of vendors announcing products using Java – right now, it’s one per day.”
For more information about Java, see the Web site http://java.sun.com.

If someone said “Java,” you probably think of espresso, right? No more. The latest Java has nothing to do with coffee – it’s the biggest revolution in software programming, particularly for the Web.
Developed along with a Java-enabled Web browser called Hot Java by Sun Microsystems in Mountain View, Calif., Java may just bring CD-ROM quality and amazing interactivity to a screen near you.
“It’s the difference between a telegraph and a telephone, between black and white and a color television,´ said John Sumner, a technology manager at Sun.
Announced in May, it’s taking off big-time. While a few months…

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