A 10-year bout with Java

Sun Microsystems' president and COO Jonathan Schwartz explains why Java is an example of "sharing" and how it could become a "social utility", as the Web programming language celebrates its 10th anniversary.

It was in March 1995 that the industry first caught a glimpse of a programming dialect which was to become "the language, the platform and the architecture for computing on the network".

When Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy used those words to describe Java, he must have had these figures in mind: more than 4.5 million developers, almost 1 billion Java cards, and over 700 million mobile phones and 700 million computers running Java worldwide today.

Prominent Java co-inventor James Gosling and his team began work to identify the "next wave" in computing back in 1991. Ironically, they had set out to create a device which demonstrated the convergence of digitally-controlled consumer devices and computers. The goal was to create a technology designed to not only move media content across the then-newly emerging Internet, but to also provide the ability to move behavior along with the content.

Initially called WebRunner, after the sci-fi movie Blade Runner, Java for the first time allowed moving objects and dynamically executed content to exist in a Web browser.

When Gosling's team posted the first set of Java source code on the Internet, it had hoped to clock 10,000 downloads. A decade on, today, Java sits on 2.5 billion devices and in the networks of over 140 carriers worldwide.

The 10th JavaOne conference kicks off this week in San Francisco. In an exclusive e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, the company's president and COO Jonathan Schwartz elaborates on how Java fits into Sun's new "sharing" campaign.

Schwartz also adds that new security features in the next version of Java will be unveiled at JavaOne, and talks about his vision for Java to be a delivery mechanism for "social utility".

Q. What will the key focus or theme be at this year's JavaOne?
A: This year the community is celebrating the 10th birthday of Java technology, and enjoying the 10th JavaOne conference where there will be more events and opportunities for attendees to discover, share and learn about Java than ever before.

Today Java is everywhere--there are more participants than ever. More than 4.5 million developers are driving new innovations (worldwide), and there are over 700 million cell phones and 700 million personal computers using Java. We're close to reaching a billion Java cards worldwide, helping secure the network, and there are over 140 carrier networks leveraging the platform. Java connects employees, partners and customers in practically every industry--from retailing to automotive, to science, medicine and even gaming.

We estimate that the Java Economy represents about US$100 billion annually today. It's extraordinary how far Java has come in 10 years and we're excited for how far it will go in the next 10 years--that will certainly be a key theme of the conference.

Sun just launched a US$50 million re-branding campaign that emphasizes sharing. Where does Java fit in?
Sharing is a core value at Sun, and one on which we've built our business. It expands overall market opportunity which Sun is able to then monetize through technical and business model innovation on behalf of our customers.

One of the greatest examples of sharing in action is Java and the 4.5 million-person strong Java developer community. Building and engaging such communities relies on trust and openness. It starts with the sharing of ideas, technologies and markets, and with gaining consensus on standards.

From the mobile device to the application to the data center, Java technology allows for safety, security, compatibility and interoperability across the network--all critical components of long-term growth and market expansion.

You have one of the most widely-read blogs in the industry today. Can you touch on a couple of the biggest misconceptions about Java that you've been able to clarify via your blog, or otherwise, would like to clarify here?
Many people don't fully appreciate the role Java plays in network security, particularly in the mobile communications arena. I've had great dialogs with the market on the importance of technologies like secure Java Cards through my blog.

Making Java open source has been one of the biggest debates in the industry. What's your take on this? And when, if ever, do you see Java being put on the open-source market?
Since Sun's beginnings, we have held firm to the belief that engineering better solutions depends on both sharing our ideas and our work. I think our continued success depends on it. Expect to see more moves from us in this direction.

And remember, the Java community is exactly that--a community. There are more than 900 members of the Java Community Process, from the largest companies on earth to individual developers, and they all have a voice.

Some highly critical, as labeled by Secunia, security flaws on Java were discovered as recent as two weeks ago, that even after a decade's worth of development. What do you think Sun, or the rest of the software industry, needs to do to make a piece of software as near 'unbreakable' as possible, so to speak?
At Sun we build security into everything we do--from process and policy to the technology we deliver. We assume the network…it's not bolted on as an afterthought.

To that end, the Java platform was designed with a strong emphasis on security, and as the platform has grown and evolved to support an ever increasing set of services and devices, so has our security architecture.

In fact, at the JavaOne conference, we will be highlighting new security features found in Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition 6.0, our next version of Java.

How do you see Java developing in the next 10 years?
Java is evolving faster than ever and moving into areas we can just begin to imagine. In the next 10 years, we expect that as the network grows, the Java Economy will continue to thrive--stimulating further market growth and innovation.

What I do know is that economic growth and social progress come from lowering the barriers to participation on the network, and enabling more business opportunity on the Web. Java does exactly that. It is the standard rail gauge that provides compatibility, security and a level playing field across the globe.

I truly believe that Java delivers social utility, whether it's expanding markets, driving business value or better connecting patients to doctors or governments to citizens--and I fully expect that to continue.