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Undoubtedly you have had some experience with Java by now. Many web sites are using Java for on-line stores or other features requiring more complex interaction than HTML can give.

You probably have some level of dislike for it, too. Java is painfully slow, particularly so over slow dial-up links, and when it malfunctions, the results are usually pretty bad.

It was an article in the current (January 1999) issue of Forbes magazine that made me realize that Java, or something precisely similar in concept, can (and probably will) mean the end of Microsoft's death grip on operating systems.

If you can find a copy of this issue, pick it up. If it's too late for that, you might find it at the Forbes Web Site.

If those links have expired, you can order the book that the article discusses from Amazon. Order it anyway: this is an important book. It's by Clayton Christensen, the title is "The Innovator's Dilemma : When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail"

Yeah, right, you say. Java is slow, it's hard to write, it is confusing, it isn't really a cross-platform language, Microsoft is going to kill it just like they kill anything else. Nobody is going to use Java.

But of course we already are using Java. And the fact that we (and more importantly, Microsoft) sneer at it is just what Christensen is talking about. Ken Olsen (DEC) sneered at the PC, so did IBM, and so did Wang. Everybody sneered at Japanese cars, at early calculators- Clayton has example after example of "disruptive technologies" that destroyed or caused significant loss for companies who never saw them coming.

Yes, Java is one that Christensen thinks is a harbinger of the future, and I have to agree. Right now, no. Bill Gates can still sleep comfortably (and probably always will anyway). But most of the problems with Java are going to be solved, and pretty quickly. The major problems right now are the general slowness of the Internet and the steep learning curve of the language itself. Well, does anyone really think that the Internet is going to stay slow? Does anyone truly believe that 56K dialups will remain the common access method? No, the demand for speed is too high, and it will not be long before most of us have high speed access, and that access makes Java much more usable. As to the other problem, higher level tools always follow languages. There are already programmer friendly libraries, and they will just get better.

I really think this will happen. The operating system will become unimportant, and applications (at least the generic word processing. spreadsheet, light database apps) will probably be served from the Internet. Maybe we'll just rent a word processor when we need one, paying for the actual time we use it. Or maybe not, but I'm sure that the next 5 to 10 years will see a real change in these areas.

© January 1999 A.P. Lawrence. All rights reserved

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