25 Years of Java - the past to the present

The Stack Overflow Podcast

This week we have two extra podcast episodes for you, sponsored by Oracle, which is celebrating the fact that the Java programming language has been going strong for over a quarter century. Originally conceived as an operating system for interactive set-top boxes, Java is now active on more than 45 billion virtual machines around the globe. From computers to cars, from Minecraft to the Mars Rover, its reach is astonishing. We dig into the history of why it was developed and what allowed it to flourish to such a degree.

For this episode we chatted with Georges Saab, Vice President of Software Development at the Java Platform Group and Manish Gupta, Vice President of Global Marketing for Java and GraalVM.

In the beginning, the nascent Java language project, codenamed Project Green and later Oak, was designed to create interactive televisions. Think of the kind of overlays and interactivity that you see with most flat screen TVs today. Back in 1995, this was brand new territory. There was no hardware or operating system standard for a computing platform within a TV, so the team had to figure out how to create a programming language that could run on virtually anything. Code it once and run it everywhere through a virtual machine.

Interactive TV was ahead of its time in the early 90s, but Java found a strong foothold for its cross-platform ideas in web applets and WebStart programs that downloaded and ran an application entirely from a web address. This evolved over time, and today it provides a lot of the processing muscle for server-side web apps and cloud-based SaaS applications. Here at Stack Overflow, the Java tag has remained one of the most popular over the years, with 1.7 million total questions on the site.

When Sun announced Java in 1995, they did so with Marc Andreessen—then cofounder and “rockstar” at Netscape—on stage with them. Andreessen had agreed to integrate Java into the Navigator browser, a major coup for a brand new language. At the time, Navigator was the clear leader in the browser market, taking over 75% of the share. Even before this announcement at the SunWorld conference, the volume of downloads of the language became so great that it overwhelmed the T1 line attached to the java.sun.com web server.

Today's episode covers the past and present of Java. Tomorrow, we'll air episode two, which takes us from the present and looks towards the future. If you want to learn more, Oracle has put together a wealth of resources to celebrate Java's 25th anniversary.

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