Java jolts Internet users with dynamic view of World Wide Web

SORCERERS HAVE known for centuries that certain words and phrases have magical powers. "Open sesame" makes locked doors swing open, for example. "Abracadabra" makes rabbits appear out of top hats. "I am a computer programmer" causes people at dinner parties to fall into a dazed, zombie-like state.

But for some reason, the incantation "I am a Java developer" seems to awaken some people these days. It could be that Java creates a mental image of a cup of steaming coffee. Or it could be that Java, like last season's magic word, Netscape, summons images of cutting-edge technology and stock market excess.


Whatever the reasons, Java is hot. But what the heck is it? The following is a dinner party script:

"So just what the heck is this Java stuff?"


"At what level of abstraction would you like me to address that question? Specifically, Java is an object-oriented programming language developed by Sun Microsystems, which, unlike such other languages as C++ or Perl, is platform-independent ."


Obviously, this approach does not capture the magic of Java. Let us try again:

"What's Java? And skip the techno mumbo jumbo."

"Hey, great question. It comes down to this: Would you rather just surf the Web, or do you want to dive deeply into it, where you can cavort with dolphins and mermaids and explore sunken treasure ships, while getting constantly updated stock quotes?"

"What's the Web?"

Well, perhaps it is not yet possible to convey the wonders of Java to someone who has not used the Internet or the Web. But for those who have gone Web surfing, Java does indeed change, or at least has the potential to change, the way the Web works.

Java makes the Web wriggle and dance and sing. It does so by allowing Web developers to create and automatically deliver working programs, not just files, to any computer on the network.


Even though Java is still very new and not yet widely deployed, it is regarded as one of the most important computer software developments since Mosaic, the Internet browser that opened up the World Wide Web to a general audience and led to that service's phenomenal growth.

Java is also a key component of the latest versions of Netscape Navigator, the most popular software for browsing the Web. Navigator 3.0 now is available for downloading from Netscape's Web site, at the Web address http: //

Users of Windows versions of Navigator have had a chance to play with Java for some time now. Some Macintosh users now can play around with Java as well, by downloading a pre-release copy of Navigator 3.0 for the Power Macintosh. Owners of older Macs will have to wait a while longer.

As mentioned earlier, Java is unlike most other languages popular with Internet developers, because it is not restricted to any particular type of computer chip or operating system. A programmer can create an application using Java and embed it in a Web page, and in theory any computer that visits the page with a Java-based browser can operate the program.

Java programs delivered via the Web are usually referred to as applets.

In techno-speak, this means Java is a cross-platform environment. It may help to think of cross-platform programs in television terms. A broadcaster sends out a program -- say, "I Love Lucy" -- and it can be viewed by almost any television set, whether it is a 9-inch black-and-white model or a 35-inch color console or a Dick Tracy video wristwatch.


As we know all too well, such egalitarianism is rare in the computer world. If "Lucy" were a computer program, there would have to be Lucy for Windows, Lucy for Macintosh, Lucy for Berkeley Systems Unix, and so on.

Java ends such nonsense, freeing programmers to concentrate on writing useful programs.

Examples include interactive games, like crossword puzzles that offer hints depending on what letters the user enters; constantly updated information like sports scores, headlines or stock quotes; and text-to-voice synthesizers.

Even Microsoft has joined the Java jive, recognizing that it could fundamentally alter the way software is created, sold and delivered.

When an applet is embedded in a Web page, and the page is visited by someone using a Java-enabled browser like Navigator 3.0 or Sun's own Hot Java (now in testing for Sun and Windows 95 computers), the applet is automatically sent to the user's computer and activated.

Someday, the browsers themselves may be Java applets that can be programmed to perform specific tasks.


For information, you can visit Sun's Java site on the Web, http: //

Peter H. Lewis is a columnist for the New York Times.

Pub Date: 5/13/96