RetroLook: Java a Born loser

PC Magazines John Dvorak in the June 25th 1996 issue of the magazine said “Its hard to stand against the tide when everyone is boosting Java – but someone has to do it”. John was concerned about defending the PC desktop against the Web interface. It was another chapter in the ongoing thick versus thin, centralized versus decentralized debate on pereenial rival IT Architectures. And John cast it as such: ” … looking over trends that have put personal computing on the fast track, I simply do not see where Java fits in. The major trend has been decentralization, and Java, in its purest form, runs counter to that.”

I think John in referring to Java in its purest form was talking about Java applets. But in fact one of the endearing characteristics of Java is that in deployment it can take many forms: local desktop application; compiled to native executable code for maximum local performance (this option is still possible but has waned – see IBMs view or see another viewpoint and plenty of tips on native Java excutables); servlets to create web pages; J2EE n-tier systems applications and now the all the rage on devices=> J2ME inspired Java codelets running on mobile phones, handhelds, and any device that has a decent CPU.

So from a narrow point of view of Java as strictly Applets and in the ongoing IT architectural battle of thick versus thin – John took sides, a somewhat Desktop PC-centric point of view. But he missed the big picture – it is reflected in his closing comments:
“Finally let me throw one more wet towel on Java by commenting on its utopian notion of machine independence. This desire for interoperability is a joke. Whats the point if 90% of desktop machines are Intel Machines ?”
Even back then, I remember a colleague telling me 90% of CPUs were going into embedded processors and those embedded processors were everything but Intel x86 architecture. Likewise on the server side, X86 continues to make in roads but is far from dominant in terms of number of seats supported. Even more telling Intel x86 is about to fork twice: 64bit processing will create x86old and x86new while Itanium and its like will produce a new serverinstruction set and architecture.

John Did Get One Big Idea Right

However in this same piece John did get one idea right. “And lets not leave good old Microsoft out of this formula. It has essentially thrown most of the companys resources at the Internet and even, in a panic, licensed Java. What do you think Microsoft, a company known for language development, is going to do about Java ? Id look for Visual Java, then Visual Basic/Java, then Visual Basic for the Internet, and who knows what else ? Java will be eased out of the picture as fast as possible.”

Bang spot on! I hope I can get 1 out of 2 prognostications/analysis with similar accuracy.