Interview: James Gosling, 'the Father of Java'

The Sun vice president, known as the 'Father of Java', shares his thoughts on Java's future, open source and the U.S. as a third-world terms of its networking mindset.
Posted October 21, 2007

Tim Scannell

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James Gosling As one of the developers of the original Java programming language and "Father of Java," James Gosling is easily a cyber celebrity in the open systems community.

Since creating Java and implementing its original compiler and virtual machine, the language has blossomed into an environment with a global install base of 5 million with more than 6 million Java developers.

There is strength in numbers, but Java's future -- as well as the long-term acceptance of NetBeans and other Sun products -- depends on how well these technologies play in the enterprise market and adapt to changes in the open systems landscape.

Gosling recently talked to about open systems, collaborative systems and even that little company called Google.

Q: Why is there so much activity right now surrounding the area of open source, especially in the enterprise?

Open source is somewhere in between a marketing buzzword and a religious movement. For me, the piece about it that is important is community engagement. Collaborating with our customers and not treating them like animals at which you throw meat, but people that you work with and collaborate with -- particularly when you are doing sophisticated enterprise software.

It's asking them what the need and why they need it, and if they usually have a proposal about how to solve them. There are actually people on the outside who want to solve the problem for us and have the code. A lot of our customers and the people we work with are just really smart and really good people.

Q: I imagine the customer demographics and mindset have changed a lot as work tactics become more collaborative and the dynamics of the supply chain change.

We're a supplier to other technology companies. So the people who consume our stuff are not so much the enterprise endpoints as the people who build the software for them. We don't really build enterprise apps; we build frameworks for enterprise apps. We don't, for example, build cell phone applications, we build underlying infrastructure for people who do build cell phone applications.

Q: But even that activity has changed a lot, because a lot of the underlying structure does have applications or applications modules embedded on both the server and the client side. It seems to be a lot more complicated.

Well, it's very applications specific. For some things, you end up doping some sort of a split between local and remote. A lot of these apps on cell phones need to work on networks that are a little shaky, and they are slow. Certainly, in North America the networks are sadly slow, and in Europe they are expensive.

Q: So the solution for many developers is to build applications that can deal with network inconsistencies and let you continue working even if you are offline. Does this make it any better in terms of dealing with these networks?

It's getting better, but it's sort of like the iPhone solution to just write Web pages. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of apps you just cannot write that way. You really can't do a decent game as a Web application. You can't get the kind of responsiveness that you need. Anything that requires tight user interaction just doesn't work as a network application.

Q: Is this a problem as we put more emphasis on collaborative applications and social networking environments in the enterprise?

It depends on what you are doing. There are things that kind of look like chat rooms on steroids, and then there is simpler much more mundane stuff like filling out an expense report and filling out tax returns. There are some pretty interesting collaborative applications, though, like workforce scheduling apps.

Q: Is a lot of this really neat stuff still under wraps and in development?

No, there is a lot of production stuff but it's actually remarkably hard to find it in the U.S. because the U.S. is such a third-world country.

Q: In terms of the networking in infrastructure?

In terms of the mindset around networking. It's really frightening to compare the U.S. against other places like Asia. There is this rather parochial view that the U.S. is the leader and that hasn't been the case in quite a while.

Next page: Is the U.S. open systems movement more of a revolution than an evolution?

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