Java creator brews thoughts on future

James Gosling, the creator of Java, says the network is changing how people think about software and how they build it.

And in an exclusive interview with Computerworld senior editor Sharon Gaudin, Gosling, vice-president and fellow at Sun Microsystems, addressed several issues, including Java as a platform and keeping the technology focused.

Rethinking what software should do:

Gosling: People are having a hard time coming to grips with the impact of the network on software. How do you build software that exploits the fact that you're not on a little stand-alone box, but you're part of a community? It's about cooperating and collaborating. How do you build a spreadsheet that lets you collaborate? How do you do collaborative editing? How do you do workflow management?

It's not about Java. It's about the network. The people who just rebuild in Java are missing the boat. The opportunity is there to rethink things completely. When you're building distributed applications, there's a way to think differently. A lot of that really hasn't gotten into the collective consciousness of the development community.

On Java as a platform:

Gosling: It could [be a platform], but it works very nicely on top of an existing operating system. Java isn't so much about providing facilities but providing interfaces to facilities. We don't provide a file system. We provide an interface to a file system.

Focusing on platform independence:

Gosling: We have been so focused on Wintel that doing Macintosh and [Silicon Graphics] and many of the other platforms hasn't gotten the attention that it really deserves. Most of the [cross-platform] problems have been that the rate of change has been so large that many of the platforms haven't been very good at keeping pace. You get platform dependencies not because of problems in the theory of the system but because of the realities. But it has been getting much, much better.

What's coming up for Java in 1998?

Gosling: In 1997, we saw a lot of people building interesting internal applications. Now a lot of people are building external applications, and they're ready to hit the market. I expect '98 to see a much larger volume of real products based on Java. Watch for Lotus's eSuite, Netmosphere's project management system, Scribe Software's enterprise data management system and Vitria Technology's distributed data management system.

On the hype surrounding Java:

Gosling: It's never happened before, near as I can tell. Maybe on some other planet. It has been detrimental in some ways. Some of the press reports get out of control, but you talk to the developers, and they're pretty straight about what this stuff is. I think most everybody has built sort of a hype filter.

Focusing on the rivalry with Microsoft:

Gosling: That's a struggle Scott [McNealy] goes through every day, deciding what's the right thing to emphasise. Every time I talk to him about it, it's a complex combination of things. On average, it ends up being that we just can't afford to let [the rivalry] alone.