The spawning
Gosling did start from a very real fixed point in the programming universe. “When I started, I was thinking this will just will be C++ with some fixes,” he said. “But then it kind of grew, and the fixes became much more extensive, and so that’s really the only part of the project that survived the Green Project: the programming tool.”

That doesn’t mean the rest of the work on Project Green was useless, however. “The rest of Project Green was really important to provide the motivation for a lot of the issues in Java,” Gosling said. “The really lucky part was this collision between the computer and consumer industries, so a lot of this really showed up [in the real world]. The large-scale networking really has happened. For Sun Microsystems at the time, as a company, networking was the central concept in everything we did.”

All those networked systems have, indeed, come of age, as Java sits atop the world’s largest businesses, and atop the lists of the world’s most popular programming languages, typically closely behind the leader: JavaScript.

John Rymer, senior analyst at Forrester Research, was caught by surprise in the mid-1990s, when he began covering Java from, basically, day one. That surprise came from the quick uptake of the language.

“For me, no matter what you think of a technology or product, when you start to see adoption, you have to take it seriously,” he said. “And, oh boy, did we start to see adoption! People quickly forgot about Smalltalk.”

It’s curious to think that Smalltalk was supposed to be the hot new language for the enterprise at the time. Its everything-is-an-object object-oriented approach to development was appealing to the complex challenges of industry.

But Rymer said Java completely cut off Smalltalk adoption by being a lighter-weight alternative. “Smalltalk people did really interesting things with it. It’s not dead,” he said.

“But it came along with this enormous set of classes which you had to have in your environment, and Java, with its class-loading features, made it much more adaptable. You didn’t have to carry this enormous load of foundation classes. A lot of the environment was built up by dynamically loading the foundation on top of it. [Java] was way more practical.”

Rymer added that it didn’t hurt the language when IBM and Microsoft both jumped in. Microsoft’s interest in Java eventually led to a lawsuit against Sun, which it lost to the tune of US$2 billion.