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Inventor Gosling watches Java grow up

It's been called slow, limited, and unsafe, but it seems there's no stopping Java.

SAN FRANCISCO--It's been called slow and limited, and its security problems have made front-page headlines, but it doesn't seem as if anybody can stop Java, the programming language that could.

Even the father of Java, Sun Microsystems' James Gosling is awed by the phenomenal popularity of the programming language he invented, poking fun at Java security in his keynote speech today at the JavaOne developer conference here.

Along with Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft division, Gosling addressed an audience of more than 5,000 developers, outlining the humble origins of the Java language and providing a roadmap for Java's evolution, including a component API code named Java Beans.

Java Beans will allow better communication between Java applets and component software written for other architectures like ActiveX or OpenDoc. With the Java Beans API, for example, a developer can use Java to create a button in an HTML document that triggers actions in a word processor, rather than just provide a link. Several companies endorsed the API, including Netscape Communications, IBM, and Oracle.

Analysts were encouraged by the announcement today, saying that Java has matured but that the technology still has to demonstrate its viability to businesses.

"It's an interesting evolution from a year ago. Although the promise for Java is there, a lot of refinements are needed," said Allen Weiner, principal analyst at Dataquest. "We still have yet to see the kind of compelling applications that will work for businesses."

Java also still has to overcome user's nervousness about well-publicized security holes in the language that hackers could use to attack computers connected to the Internet.

"Now, you can send your [Java] bug reports directly to USA Today," said Gosling, a Sun fellow. "The attacks people say you can do with Java are much more like a Mission: Impossible script than what you can actually do."

Still, Gosling went on, Java has come a long way. He described how Java has come full circle since its introduction one year ago, showing a PDA-like device called Star 7 powered by a primitive forerunner of the JavaOS announced by Sun today. Later, Gosling's team developed a programming language called Oak that was designed to create portable applications for a variety of platforms, including PDAs and interactive TV set-top boxes. But when those markets failed to materialize, Sun quickly recast Oak as Java and further developed the language to run applets over the Internet, Gosling said.

Now, Sun is trying to extend Java beyond the desktop by fusing the technology closely to pagers, cellular phones, and network computers with its JavaOS. The company today announced more than 25 companies that intend to license the lightweight OS--which is itself written entirely in Java so that it can be ported to many hardware platforms--for a host of devices.

"Anything that feels like, smells like it has a microprocessor, we'd like Java to run on it," said JavaSoft's Baratz. "If you write in Java, you will have the broadest base of consumers [for your applications]."

Gosling added a note of levity to the fantastical predictions of Java's expansion into people's everyday lives when discussing a new chip from Mitsubishi that will be closely integrated with Java. Mitsubishi Electric America today also demonstrated a prototype PDA running the JavaOS.

"You can build a complete speech recognition system into a doorknob," said Gosling. "I don't know why you'd want to do that, but you can."

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