Programming Windows: Java (Premium)

In early 1991, engineers at Sun Microsystems created a small team to discover whether there were any opportunities for the firm in consumer electronics. At that time---Windows 3.0 had been out for barely a year, and audio CDs were still considered advanced technology---Sun was known only for its expensive and high-powered Unix workstations, so this foray into such a different market may have seemed unusual.

But Sun’s initial research had uncovered a potential market that was not that dissimilar to the TCP/IP-based networks that Sun had pioneered for its workstations: Time Warner and other cable giants of the day would need interactive and interconnected set-top boxes for TVs. These boxes would run on a diverse set of hardware, and Sun figured it could create a platform that would virtualize the hardware and work anywhere.

The project was codenamed “Green” and was led by Sun engineers James Gosling, Patrick Naughton, and Mike Sheridan. The platform they were creating had to be low-cost, bug-free, and simple to meet the needs of the market. And they initially started with the C++ programming language. But C++ proved to be too inefficient for the simple platform that the team imagined. And so Gosling created his own language with a simplified syntax based on C and C++.

He called it Oak. Because there was an oak tree outside of his window.

But Oak and the software platform that the team created was “too far ahead of its time,” Gosling later recalled, noting that the cable companies feared losing control of a system in which users could “read and write information into the system.” By the time Sun realized that it couldn’t market the technology to cable companies, it was 1993. So Gosling and his team started shopping Oak around Sun, trying to figure out something to do with it.

“Why not the Internet?"

The question is remembered as a “joint epiphany” but it was most likely Sun co-founder Bill Joy who saw the potential of this new system. The Internet provided exactly the kind of network that Oak required, and because any kind of machine could connect to this network, its hardware abstracting runtime environment was likewise ideal.

“The Internet was being transformed into exactly the network that we had been trying to convince the cable companies they ought to be building,” Gosling recalled. “All the stuff we had wanted to do, in generalities, fit perfectly with the way applications were written, delivered, and used on the Internet. It was just an incredible accident. And it was patently obvious that the Internet and [Oak] were a match made in heaven. So that's what we did.”

Sun’s first efforts to bring Oak to the Internet resulted in a web browser, modeled after Mosaic, called WebRunner (and later renamed HotJava). It was the first browser to add animated, moving objects to the web, and to dynamically display content. Previous efforts were just text, and images opened in separate windows.

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