Tech history 101

Know your history — Java’s rise to popularity

JAXenter Editorial Team
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© Shutterstock / Inspiring (modified)

Welcome to our History 101 series! In the second part, we look at one of the most enduring programming languages of our time. How did Java make its way to the top? From humble origins, we turn back the pages to the beginning. Class is in session!

Welcome to the second part of our new JAXenter history series [the first part can be found here], where we look at the technology that has terraformed the tech landscape. This week we look at the top programming language – none other than Java.

Those who refuse to learn history are doomed to repeat it. By learning about where we have been, we can predict where we will go from here.

Whether you like yours black or with cream and sugar, let’s take a coffee break and look back at our roots.

A long way to the top

Despite its indisputable popularity, Java comes from humble origins. James Gosling, Mike Sheridan, and Patrick Naughton (known as the “Green Team”) began their project in June, 1991. The first public implementation of Java 1.0 released in 1996 through Sun Microsystems. From the start, they held a Write Once, Run Anywhere mantra with no-cost run-times on popular platforms.


Source: wayback machine archive –, 1998

In 1995, an article in Wired discussed the prediction that Java could become “the DOS of the Internet”. David Bank wrote that “in time, a distributed object-oriented language like Java will probably establish itself as a foundation of the Net”. The Internet was a very different place back in 1995, full of text and static pages. However, Java would soon revolutionize the Net and usher it into a new age.

That same year, Michael O’Connell interviewed Java’s creators and said that the language is “poised to fill World Wide Web browsers everywhere with animation, audio, and real-time interactivity”. The Internet was about to transition from the niche unknown of the 90’s into the wild playground of the 2000’s with Java at the forefront of the caravan.

Did you know? Most Java versions have an internal code name. Sparkler, Pumpkin, Mustang, Playground, Cricket, Kestrel, Ladybird, Merlin, Hopper, Mantis, Tiger, Dolphin, Spider, and more are part of the the colorful menagerie. Aren’t these easier to remember than numbers?

SEE ALSO: Know your history — Internet edition

The rise of the Java applet


Source: wayback machine archive –, 2003

It was common in the days of early internet for web browsers to run Java applets, which led to much of its popularity and adoption. (Only deprecated in 2017, applets ran the web since 1995.)

These applets were the precursor of the Internet to come and introduced mini-applications to websites. The web was evolving beyond a static collection of HTML, it was becoming interactive and user-focused. Everything from games, visual effects, mouse-over animations, and interactive forms started appearing on pages.

It became increasingly common to see that little coffee cup logo as something loaded on your dial-up connection, or more likely, a pop-up window announcing that Java was out of date. Applets were slowly eating the world.

Did you know? You used to be able to order JDK software through snail mail with “hundreds of megabytes of other useful material” on CD-ROM. It was called Java Jumpstart and was marketed as “saving download time”. It included Java 2 SDK and the JDK 1.1x software. We laugh now, but in the days of dial-up this was a lifesaver.

Age of open source


Source: wayback machine archive –, 2006

In 2006, most of the JVM was open sourced by Sun Microsystems, providing free software to all.

Over a decade ago, JavaWorld celebrated this news, stating that the open source JVM frees developers and gives them more room to distribute their work. Marc Fleury, founder of the JBoss division of Red Hat said in 2006 that the open sourcing “will extend the life of Java by at least 15 years”. Check the calendars, because it is 2018 and Java is still going strong!

Only a year later, Sun made all of its Java virtual machines available as free software.

SEE ALSO: Open source: The next 20 years

Did you know? The Java mascot is called the Duke and back in the mid-2000’s he was seen skateboarding on  screensavers. He even used to have his own Myspace! Who was in his Top 8? 

New names, new directions

In 2009, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems for 7.4 billion. At the time of acquisition, many questions were raised, even prompting some community members to proclaim it the death of Java.

However, Java did not end. Currently, it is the number one most used programming language according to the TIOBE Index.

The recently adopted release cycle promises a new version of Java every six months. Much discussion about the state of the JDK continues to fill the airwaves. We look back at the statement made in 2006 and we rephrase it for the current age: Where will Java be in 15 years?

As we await Java 11, we have to look back at the history and see how far we’ve come. While no one can predict what the future holds, one thing is certain: Java changed the internet and in turn, the world.


Miss a week of class? We’ve got your make-up work right here. Check out other chapters in our Know Your History series!

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