The Origin of Java

Computer language innovation is driven forward by two factors: improvements in the art of programming and changes in the computing environment. Java is no exception. Building upon the rich legacy inherited from C and C++, Java adds refinements and features that reflect the current state of the art in programming. Responding to the rise of the online environment, Java offers features that streamline programming for a highly distributed architecture.

History and Target

Java was conceived by James Gosling, Patrick Naughton, Chris Warth, Ed Frank, and Mike Sheridan at Sun Microsystems in 1991. This language was initially called “Oak” but was renamed “Java” in 1995. Somewhat surprisingly, the original impetus for Java was not the Internet! Instead, the primary motivation was the need for a platform-independent language that could be used to create software to be embedded in various consumer electronic devices, such as toasters, microwave ovens, and remote controls. As you can probably guess, many different types of CPUs are used as controllers. The trouble was that most computer languages are designed to be compiled for a specific target. For example, consider C++. Although it is possible to compile a C++ program for just about any type of CPU, to do so requires a full C++ compiler targeted for that CPU. The problem, however, is that compilers are expensive and time-consuming to create. In an attempt to find a better solution, Gosling and others worked on a portable, cross-platform language that could produce code that would run on a variety of CPUs under differing environments. This effort ultimately led to the creation of Java. About the time that the details of Java were being worked out, a second, and ultimately more important, factor emerged that would play a crucial role in the future of Java. This second force was, of course, the World Wide Web. Had the Web not taken shape at about the same time that Java was being implemented, Java might have remained a useful but obscure language for programming consumer electronics. However, with the emergence of the Web, Java was propelled to the forefront of computer language design, because the Web, too, demanded portable programs.

Most programmers learn early in their careers that portable programs are as elusive as they are desirable. While the quest for a way to create efficient, portable (platform-independent) programs is nearly as old as the discipline of programming itself, it had taken a back seat to other, more pressing problems. However, with the advent of the Internet and the Web, the old problem of portability returned with a vengeance. After all, the Internet consists of a diverse, distributed universe populated with many types of computers, operating systems, and CPUs. What was once an irritating but a low-priority problem had become a high-profile necessity.

By 1993 it became obvious to members of the Java design team that the problems of portability frequently encountered when creating code for embedded controllers are also found when attempting to create code for the Internet. This realization caused the focus of Java to switch from consumer electronics to Internet programming. So, while it was the desire for an architecture-neutral programming language that provided the initial spark, it was the Internet that ultimately led to Java’s large-scale success.