I’ve been covering Java on the Mac for a little more than ten years now. Fortunately, I have other beats. If this were my only focus then I’d be really worried by a Steve Jobs quote on David Pogue’s blog.
I’m sure I’ve blogged this part of the story before, but I was teaching an intro to Java at John Carroll and Java 1.1 was released for Windows only a couple of weeks into the semester. Some of my students were able to use that new full-featured version of Java while me and my Mac-bound friends were stuck on 1.02. I complained to the right people and the next thing you know, I was covering the Java on the Mac beat for JavaWorld Magazine.
Among other things, this meant that I was a working member of the press when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. I went to Boston to see his first Macworld keynote. Since then I’ve been able to cover every Macworld Expo at which Jobs’ has delivered the keynote. That year he introduced new board members and outlined the items he thought were important to re-invigorating the Mac. This included the famous investment by and peace settlement with Microsoft. Netscape continued to ship on the Mac but IE was the default browser. Part of the Microsoft announcement was that Apple would be collaborating with Microsoft on Java.
That might not seem like a big deal. But if you’ve ever been to a Steve Jobs’ keynote you know that there are a ton of things that he can talk about and only a small focused subset makes it to the main stage. For example, this year there was no mention of the features coming in Leopard in the next few months. The discussion was mainly AppleTV as the opening act followed by the iPhone. And within the iPhone announcement, plenty of details were left out.
So Java on the platform was a big deal in 1997. I also remember that that was the show where I saw my first Java IDE that was (supposedly) written in Java.
In 2000, Steve Jobs appeared at one of the JavaOne keynote addresses. I quoted Jobs as saying that “Sun and Apple haven’t worked that closely on Java in the past.”
“That was your fault,” interrupted Sun CEO Scott McNealy. “I think we had a hard time feeling like the [Mac] Java desktop strategy was working with us.”
“And you guys were putting Java in light bulbs and everything else,” answered Jobs.
Jobs then keyed in on his message: “We want to bring Java back to the desktop in a really big way. I’m here today to personally tell you we are working hard to make Mac the best Java delivery vehicle on the planet. The biggest thing we are doing is we are going to bundle Java 2 SE into every single copy of Mac OS X [the upcoming Macintosh operating system] that we ship later on this year.”
Again, that seemed to be a pretty clear sign that Java was important to Apple and Apple was important to Sun.
Markoff: “And what are you thinking about Flash and Java?”
Jobs: “Java’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain.”
Jobs: “Well, you might see that.”
Wow. Too heavyweight for the iPhone. The iPhone with four or eight gig of storage. The EveryMac.com site reminds us that the PowerPC introduced in November, 1997 had 4 gig of storage. Those were back in the days where the machines shipped with 32 meg of RAM and the processor was topping out at 233 MHz. This iPhone will put more power in your pocket than the PowerPC put on your desktop — and the iPhone includes a display.
Is Java done on the Mac?
Chris Adamson and I have written that Java could have been used in interesting ways. Think of iTunes which has pieces that run on servers, pc’s, and handheld devices. That could have argued in favor of Java. But Java never made it to the iPod and it doesn’t look as if it’s headed for the iPhone.
So Java didn’t make it into OS X.
In a way I find this hard to believe and in a way I don’t. Desktop Java has never been managed right by Sun and I can see Apple not wanting to be dependent on them. Java in the browser is finally right enough that you often don’t notice it. When I contact my ISP to complain about a service, it’s a Java chat window that pops up. When I check my connection speed using the Las Vegas speed test, it is a Java applet that runs the test.
Could these be done in different ways? Sure. But they’re not. And that means that not everything on the internet will work on the iPhone. I think that Markoff got to the key issue. He didn’t ask about Java anywhere else on the phone other than in the web browser.
Sun has worked hard to get Java on a ton of handheld devices. But they aren’t nearly as cool as the iPhone. Over the years Sun has played hardball with Apple over Java. While Sun has built the runtime for Solaris, Windows, and Linux, Apple has had to build and tune the Java runtime for the Mac while paying a heavy licensing fee for the privilege of doing Sun’s work for them. Sun’s marketing always mentions the desktop platforms as being Solaris, Windows, and Linux. Solaris and Linux? And not Mac?
Sun is a server company and mainly thinks about Java sitting on servers powering the internet. But they may have just gone too far. Java not being on the iPhone and not shipping as part of OS X is a big deal.
Developers are looking at Flash and at AJAX as platforms for rich desktop (yes desktop) applications. If Java becomes irrelevant on the PC and on the device then we will enter a new phase in it’s life. There will be plenty of uses for Java for a good long while but we are entering the FORTRAN phase or the COBOL phase.
Finally, I wonder if Steve Jobs has decided that Java has no place on OS X on the iPhone, what will its role be in the future on Mac OS X on the Mac?