Come one, come all and gaze, if ye dare, upon the hideous and pathetic inhabitants of the Gallery of Lost Technologies! Here lies the most horrible collection of the damned—technologies that have driven venture capitalists to madness, developers to despair, technology journalists to drink and PR professionals to lives of crime. (Admittedly, the last two were short trips.)
There, crouching in the corner, is the pathetic pigmy known as WAP, still nursing its broken dreams of a wireless Web. Beyond sit the hideous joined twins of handwriting and voice recognition, their twisted tongues producing a horrible mockery of true language.
Here is the king of pathetic technology ideas, one that thought the best way to use a computer was to make it work like a game. Something that can be expressed with one word that still causes Redmondians to run in fear: Bob.
These lost souls are forever doomed to wander the nether regions of technology, where they serve mainly as a lesson to budding technologists and the butt of jokes to snarky technology columnists.
And now, here is the latest soul to fall into the Gallery of Lost Technologies: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Java!
Wait a second—theres nothing there. Thats strange. After all, Ive read articles saying Java has failed, and people sometimes ask me why Java was such a failure. Oh, I think I know what the problem is. Those people are looking at Java only on the desktop. Since they dont see a majority of the applications on their PCs running in Java, then Java must have flopped.
This is actually a common phenomenon—the "mistake of first impressions." When Java first started getting a lot of hype, it was commonly portrayed as a C++ and VB killer that was going to create applications that ran on all systems identically. Also, the first interaction most people had with Java was as an applet in a browser.
In these areas, Java hasnt been successful, so, in the eyes of many, its a failure. This is similar to the people who think Web services havent taken off, despite the fact that you cant surf the Web for 10 minutes without using a Web service. Theyre just not the Web services that were described in the initial hype cycle.
The funny thing, though, is that Java is a massive success, especially in the enterprise. When it comes to high-end Web applications, middleware and SOA architectures, Java has become one of the leading choices of the enterprise. Pretty much all the offerings of the leading players in these markets (BEA, IBM, Oracle, Sun) are Java-based, and many that were originally on other platforms, such as .Net, have switched.
It makes sense. While Java isnt perfect, and one can make good arguments for superiority in different areas for technologies such as PHP and .Net, Java server technology provides an ideal mix of capabilities for enterprises—from its strong scalability to its near-limitless extensibility to the ease with which it integrates with other systems. On the server side, the cross-platform promise is there in full force, with most leading Java application servers running on anything and connecting to any database. And an application written for one Java server will almost always seamlessly port to another.
The biggest threat to enterprise Java companies is actually the success of Java. It has become so seamless to use and deploy (and so common) that players such as BEA and IBM have faced the fact that the server itself is a commodity and have moved on to SOA and portals.
So, in the enterprise, Java is as healthy as a horse. And its failure in other areas might not be as complete as some think. If you use a cutting-edge cell phone such as the Razr, many of its applications are Java-based. There also are more desktop Java apps out there than most people realize—from the obvious, such as the Eclipse development environment, to popular RSS feed readers and BitTorrent clients.
So, the space saved for Java in the Gallery of Lost Technologies will have to stay empty, as its anything but a failure. But Im not worried. Given the many bad ideas out there, Im sure there will soon be another hideous wretch for the curious to gaze upon in my gallery. If they dare!
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.