When I think about Sun Microsystems, I'm reminded of Galileo, one of the major proponents of the idea that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. A brilliant scientific mind, he was far ahead of his time and after being convicted of heresy by the church in 1633, spent the waning years of his life under house arrest. It could be argued that Sun suffered a similar fate with their Java technology.
When Sun released Java, it was supposed to connect everything. It could run on any computer and in the not to distant future our refrigerators and showers would be running java and talking to each other. The very first web applications were Java, and indeed until FutureSplash came along, Java was seen as the only way to do animation on the web. The future was looking "Sunny".
Then something happened. Some people blame Microsoft for seeing the threat of Java and fragmenting the platform. Others say that Sun just bungled it, and still others say that the world just wasn't ready for cross platform. But while the shine has dimmed a bit, Java is still very much alive and in what could become the age of cross-platform, has both a head start and some valuable allies.
The world of operating systems is undergoing a big transition. The MacBook pro opened up the Mac platform to a wide range of people and the Ipod helped give Apple new relevance. As a result, application developers are now taking Macs into account when they look at technologies. Java runs on everything - Windows, OSX, Linux, and powers a number of devices as well. Furthermore, there are a lot of Java developers in the world, and a lot of great Java applications. I use Eclipse as my IDE, Azureus as my Bit Torrent client and one of the RIAs nearest and dearest to my heart, Streamer Suite (tm) at TD Ameritrade.
So can Sun translate a Java renaissance into a piece of the RIA pie? That is less clear. IBM has made some significant investments in Eclipse. The Eclipse platform is behind the Rich Client Platform. Java remains very entrenched in the world of cross-platform applications. I have long considered the RIA world a three-way race between Laszlo, Microsoft and Adobe. I won't make that mistake anymore. Sun needs to make big strides to provide the same kinds of offerings as the companies mentioned above. Galileo spent those years under house arrest writing one of his seminal works - Two New Sciences. Perhaps Sun still has time to help shape the history of the Rich Internet Application. And in fact, maybe the better question to ask is did Java ever leave?