James Gosling, the creator of Java, is out of the labs and out in front of Suns software development strategy, as the chief technology officer of Suns Developer Products group. In a candid interview with eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft, Gosling lays out his ideas on Java futures, the open-source debate, new languages and the plight of the Java camp. But first Gosling sheds some light on whats possibly behind that sly grin of his, as he shares how his early days as a prankster instilled a respect for security.
How prescient do you think you were in creating Java to be such a platform for building secure applications?
Well, when I talk about the virus code in the Microsoft world today, people look at me … I mean, I was really pretty strong about this a long time ago, that we had to do security. And people look at the virus situation and say, "you were just like prescient" was the word that you used. And I dont actually feel that way. Because the way I look at it …. Well, there was sort of a story that never appeared correctly in the press about me having some great revelation at a Doobie Brothers concert, and that was really about security. It was true but they never got it right.
Back when I was like 15 or 16, one of the things I did for fun was I got really good at manufacturing master keys for doors at large places. And one of the things I did for fun was stuff like rewiring elevator systems in large buildings. Its amazing what you can do when you get into elevator control rooms. You can have a really, really good time (laughter). … Like there was this one physics professor that everybody hated. Not because he was a nasty guy or anything but because he smoked these big cigars that really stank. And so one day he got into an elevator and we trapped him in and sent him up and down, and up and down and made him live in his own smoke in a small enclosed space.
And there was another one where a bunch of us decided to take the second floor of one building and we put like sheetrock over all the doorways and re-plastered them and painted them. We re-did the numbers on the stairwells going up. We rewired the elevator system so that it looked like when you pressed two you went to what used to be No. 3. And we put in fake baseboarding so you couldnt tell where the friggin doors used to be. And for that one I was 18.
And so I tended to be up to a lot of mischief, but with a bunch of people. Theres a part of me that would like to say I was the mastermind of all this, but, nah, mostly not. I hung out with a bunch of fairly nefarious engineering types.
And so Im at this Doobie Brothers concert and somebody had made some comment about digital control of light bulbs in your home. And I went, "Oh, this is stupid." My sister had scored these tickets to this Doobie Brothers concert that were amazing. They were the absolute front row and you could actually put your feet on the stage. The big speakers were on the other side of me and my sister and my brother-in-law so we actually heard the unamplified instruments. And to look up at the Doobie Brothers you had to kind of lean back. And all the stage lighting was basically above us, and they had all this robotic MIDI-controlled lighting. And Im lying there listening to the Doobie Brothers and looking at all this wiring and Im going: "Hmm, thats a MIDI-controlled system and those are all robot lights; if I was a 16-year-old here and I could get control of the lights in this building I could have some real fun!"
So I kind of got this semireligious thing about security, not because I cared about terrorism or anything … I was trying to protect the universe from ME! Sixteen-year-old guys with too much free time are way more dangerous than just about anything else.