Java enjoyed great success when its inventor, Sun Microsystems, released it in 1995, largely because it was optimized better for programmers than for machines, making software development significantly easier, Andreessen said. Unfortunately, Java has acquired many of the unfavorable characteristics of its predecessors, he added.
"Java is much more programmer-friendly than C or C++, or was for a few years there until they made just as complicated. It's become arguably even harder to learn than C++," Andreessen said. And the mantle of simplicity is being passed on: "PHP is such is an easier environment to develop in than Java."
That opinion might not sit well with Java loyalists--and there are plenty of them among the millions of Java programmers and hundreds of companies involved in the Java Community Process that controls the software's destiny.
But even some influential executives at IBM, which was instrumental in bringing Java to the server and whose WebSphere server software has Java at its core, see the benefits of PHP over Java.
"Simplicity is a huge part of it," said Rod Smith, vice president of IBM's Emerging Internet Technologies Group, describing PHP's appeal to IBM in a meeting with reporters at the conference. "They weren't interested in adding language features to compete with other languages," choosing instead "the simple way, and not the way we've done it in Java, unfortunately."
PHP is an open-source project including an engine to simple programs called PHP scripts and a large library of pre-built scripts. Much of its development is in the hands of a company called Zend, which sells packaged PHP products, programming tools and support.
Wooing programmers is nothing new in the computing industry, where players constantly jockey to establish their products as an essential foundation. Indeed, many credit Microsoft's success to its highly regarded programming tools, which make it easier for developers to write software that run on Windows.
PHP has caught on widely. About 22 million Web sites employ it, and usage is steadily increasing. About 450 programmers have privileges to approve changes to the software. Major companies that employ PHP include Yahoo, Lufthansa and Deutsche Telekom's T-Online.
PHP is more limited in scope than Java, which runs not just on Web servers but also on PCs, mobile phones, chip-enabled debit cards and many other devices. Some parts of the Java technology, though, such as Java Server Pages, handle much the same function.
"Java and PHP compete at some level. Get over it," Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse, said in a meeting with reporters. Eclipse is an open-source programming-tool project that long supported Java and now also supports PHP. "I'm looking forward to PHP kicking butt in the marketplace," Milinkovich said.
Java and PHP are drawing nearer to one another, though. Oracle, which also sells Java server software and whose database software can be used as a foundation for either Java or PHP, is among those working on an addition to Java to help the two software projects work together. Specifically, Java Specification Request 223 will "help build that bridge between the Java community and the PHP community," said Ken Jacobs, vice president of product strategy at Oracle, in a speech at the conference.
And even Andreessen, who just helped launch a, acknowledges that Java has its place.
"My new company is running a combination of Java and PHP. This is