800 Words on Java
Monday, June 23, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Red Herring is doing a special yearly issue with commentary from colorful software industry people. They asked me to write a piece and of course I said yes.
I like the Herring, it's like New York magazine for the inner circle of the California technology business. They asked for 800 words on Java. Of course! That's like saying the Pope wants great Christian art. Red Herring courts the venture capital (VC) crowd, and the VCs like Java on the front cover. So we do the dance! Yehi.
One more time...
1995. The web booms. HTML sucks but it's easy. We learn how to write for the web, design templates, manage websites, run servers.
Boom, boom, boom. Writers, designers and scripters. It's critical mass. But the geeks -- what about the geeks? What about geeks who program in C? Do they matter in the world of web browsers and servers?
"Yes!" says Java. "The geeks do matter." The geeks delight! Ahhh. Java *is* the Internet... It's bigger and more mysterious than HTML. "Just wait," say the Java proponents. "The killer app is just around the corner."
Java hysteria. What a trip! We all lose our cooool.
In Killer Clouds I asked "What's the killer app of Windows?"
Howard Fore, email@example.com, responds: "Marketing."
Java has been hyped, but it hasn't been marketed. Marketing is more than promotion, it's positioning, defining, and connecting. What are your strengths? What are your limits? What is your product used for? What *isn't* it used for?
The Apple II had education, the Mac had publishing. Windows replaced the Mac on corporate desktops. Industrial databases run on Oracle. Netscape made the Internet colorful and easy to navigate. They all had stories you could understand while they were establishing their long-term positions.
Do an experiment... Stop a random person on the street and ask what Java is. It's a fair question since Java has become a household word. But does it own a position? Yeah I guess it does -- Java is the future, people say. A familiar position... Java is the future, in the same way HyperCard, Next, Taligent, Go, OpenDoc and General Magic were.
Java was skillfully latched onto the boom happening in the web, a time of great confusion in the software industry. It was a smart opportunistic tactic, but Java still doesn't have a strategy, a message, a position -- a niche it's developing that it can own as the hype dies down.
In recent history, every platform that gained traction had an identifiable leader. Steve Jobs spoke for the Apple II and the Macintosh in the early years at Apple. Bill Gates speaks for Windows. Larry Ellison for Oracle. Marc Andreessen for Netscape.
Java has many voices. Microsoft adapts Java to Windows, Netscape says it runs in a web browser, Marimba and others say it's a multimedia platform, Sun makes their own OpenDoc. The more you hear, the closer you come, the more confusing it gets.
"It's neat!" counts for naught. The geeks may dig Java, but unless they deliver a lot that can't be done better in C or Director or whatever, why should anyone care?
Who will answer that question?