- July 06, 2006

I’ve been wondering for years about the reasons of Java’s failure in the Web browsers. Initially, we thought that it was due to Java performance and that improvements in the JVM (JIT, hostspot), faster processor and larger memories would finally allow Java Applets to live up to their promises.

Unfortunately, we were wrong again. As Java evolved, the JRE became larger and larger. In addition numerous integration issues came up which caused some installation and upgrade nightmares. Of course, Microsoft didn’t help in this area, shipping by default an older and non standard JVM with Windows.

There was a recent poll at on “What’s wrong with applets?” and the results are no surprise: more than 24% thought that it is “too hard to deploy”. Some comments specifically complain about the JRE size, the slow start-up and the unstable integration with some browsers.

But there’s hope, especially because we are at the start of a new wave of Rich Internet Applications with AJAX, Flash/Flex and XUL being the serious contenders. Microsoft also appear to have some competitive technology in Vista.

Is it definitely lost for Java or do we have a chance to catch up? Well, while discussing this topic with friends at the OSSGTP (Open Source Software Get Together Paris), I did some research and found interesting things:

  1. Ethan Nicholas, while working at Yahoo! came to similar conclusion and posted an excellent note in his blog. His note received many comments and much attention around the Web: see here and hear there.
  2. Back in 2001, a request for enhancement was filed in Java’s bug database, asking for a modular JRE. The issue was marked as a duplicate of another issue which unfortunately is invisible to the public.
  3. The JCP is working on a Java Module JSR (#277) which will provide a much needed upgrade to JAR file, addressing issues such as versioning, dependencies or remote update. Stanley Ho, the JSR spec lead, has more info about this effort, see his slides from JavaOne 2006.

The good news:

  1. Ethan was recently hired by Sun! Congrats Ethan and good luck in this new endeavour.
  2. Java 7 (Mustang) will include the new Java Module technology specified by the JSR 277.

It seems that Sun has all the elements for a good solution in its hands. Hopefully, we’ll see a modularized Java Runtime Edition 7.0 with a companion Java Browser Edition 7.0 coming out of Sun’s labs!