In geek-speak, Java is "A simple, object-oriented, distributed, interpreted, robust, secure, architecture neutral, portable, high-performance, multithreaded, and dynamic language." (I could not make that up.) In plain English, it's a programming language that works intimately with the Internet. Now most of these ideas have been around for many years so what's the big deal?
Java's big deal is that it lets you bring Web pages alive. You can have Web pages with action like a stock market ticker tape, animation and pages that emit nasty bodily sounds. It lets you act just like Dr. Frankenstein! (But please don't go around yelling, "It's alive! It's alive!" every time you get it to work.)
Java programs, cutely named applets (get it...little applications...yuck-yuck), get sent along with the Web pages which use them. Java-enabled Web browsers interpret the Java applets (the byte-stream), and execute the code on your machine. (Hey! Wait a minute. I don't want some strange code executing on my machine every time I surf through some Web pages!) Well, calm down. Of course those clever programmers at Sun knew this, so Java has been "built from the ground up with security in mind." This of course does not explain all those Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) notices about Java problems. But I'm sure they'll straighten it out real soon now.
The combination of the Web with Java is hard to beat. Web authors can create pages that not only look good, they can act cool, too. Even more importantly, these pages will function on any hardware platform— PCs, Macs and UNIX boxes. Microsoft was, of course, not thrilled with the notion of Java as a universal Internet programming language that would cut into their dominance of the desktop. Microsoft, however, is not stupid, and has embraced the idea of Java's becoming a full-fledged licensee; their Internet Explorer Web browser is now Java-enabled.
Of course the *World magazine folks have created JavaWorld because someone had to. Java has become so big that Sun has created an entire subsidiary called JavaSoft. A real battle of the titans is occurring, with desktop computing as the prize. Microsoft, of course, is on one side, and Sun , Netscape , SGI and Oracle are leading the assault. The principle weapons are Java and the Network Computer (NC), also called the WebPC. Check out Byte magazine's March cover story on the Web PC to see the commotion it's causing. Oracle's Network Computing Architecture, combined with a low-cost ($500) pseudo-computer executing code (i.e., Java) downloaded from the Net, is trying to turn desktop computing on its head.
The battle lines have just been drawn. Stay tuned for this one.