In the early 1990s, Gosling initiated and led a project code-named Green that eventually became Java. The basic idea behind it is that a program will run on a variety of computing devices without having to be customized for each one. For example, a game written for a one cell phone equipped with what's called a Java virtual machine should work on another.
The technology has faced numerous challenges over the last decade. Early ally Microsoft, realizing that the universality of Java programs didn't bode well for Windows, created a Windows-specific version of Java that worked slightly differently and triggered a seven-year legal fight. Different flavors of Java had to be created for domains such as gadgets, PCs and servers. Sun struggled to find a good way to share control over Java with other companies. And now many, including IBM, are calling on Sun to release the core parts of Java as open-source software.
Despite it all, Java has become a fixture in the computing realm. Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy can be prone to grandiose statements, but he wasn't far off the mark when he declared on Tuesday at Sun's JavaOne trade show, "It would almost be embarrassing to listen to the JavaOne keynotes from seven, eight or nine years ago. We absolutely underhyped it. We had no clue what this technology was going to do."
Gosling is on constant display at JavaOne trade show this week, now sporting a mane of white hair and an invariable outfit of jeans, T-shirt and Birkenstock shoes. "He looks like an aging hippie," his daughter said in a tribute video Tuesday that had the 50-year-old Java patriarch blushing on stage.
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland sat down on Tuesday to hear Gosling's thoughts on Java.
Q: When you started designing Java, did you have in mind a concept of what it might become?
Gosling: Back in the Green project days, we talked a lot about the long-distance future. We wrote up a little book of scenarios. A lot of the design of Java was driven by that scenario exercise that we went through. For me, it was more an exercise in science fiction. You never really know which way the world is going to go. You get moderately good at reading the way the wind is blowing and forecasting technology, but there's a long distance between speculating and believing it would happen. I certainly believed that Moore's Law was on a rail, and it was pretty easy to connect the dots as networking spread.
I was absolutely confident that the various technologies were going to go that way and there were issues that were going to happen around security and reliability and portability. Ending up actually participating in the big part of answering those questions is really what came as surprise.
You started Green as just a project for consumer electronics, though?
Gosling: When we originally started thinking about it, we spent a lot of time talking to people in all kinds or areas. We saw similar things happening in consumer electronics and the emerging cell phone world and embedded control systems. We talked to people who made elevators, locomotives, lighting control systems and stuff in automobiles. We also talked to (developers of) VCRs and televisions. In the first round, the Green project, we decided we wanted to do a prototype. We had to focus. Largely because it was more entertaining, we picked consumer electronics.
Lots of people thought it was interesting, but then we asked, is there some way we can turn this into something that can support itself? At about that time, Time Warner came out with their full-services network RFP (request for proposals). It was pretty much our fantasy--networking to the home, voice over network, video over network, interactive content. It was, "Yes! This is what we want, what we're working towards." We jumped in.
This was essentially the early days of interactive TV?
Gosling: Yeah. It was a pretty visionary proposal. There were a lot of people who said, "We gotta be that too."
The thing with Time Warner got really strange for a wide variety of reasons, and we ended up losing that bid. In retrospect, I'm glad we ended up losing (to Silicon Graphics). SGI went and spent unbelievable amounts of money trying to do this and got no money to help support it.Did you conceive of Java as something for this narrow domain or as something that might splash all over the computing industry?
Gosling: It wasn't so much that we planned to splash across the industry. What happened was we looked at all these industries and they were doing similar things at some gut level. Everyone was building systems that had digital controllers in them. But there are huge interoperability problems. It was a matter of observation to notice that all these things were going to get unified. You're standing outside a demolition derby and you notice all the cars are pointed toward the center of the arena and they're going to smack.
So Java solved some interoperability problems. But Microsoft went its own way with .Net, which essentially created a higher-level interoperability problem. Is there a way to merge .Net and Java into one technology?
Gosling: In some sense that's what Web services are. They're a bridge. But you can't weld things together when they don't want to be welded together. Microsoft has explicit policies of being different. They like to be different. They were actually very upstanding, lovely members of the Java community for six months or a year, then they decided that was a bad idea.
Was that 1995 or 1996?
Gosling: That would be 1996, I guess. But working together means you have to like working together. For Microsoft, that's been a long educational process. They don't seem to like it. They seem to be getting closer. We do an awful lot to work with them, but it's a little at more arm's length. We do (interfaces) in common, Web services, interoperability.
Could you feed programs written for .Net in the C# language into a Java virtual machine?
Gosling: The only serious divide is they have this unsafe mode which they use a lot. One of the principles I believe
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