It has been 10 years this month since Sun Microsystems unveiled its Java technology to the world and, in the process, changed the computer industry forever.
Java began life as a programming language that let developers create animated images on their Web sites, but it eventually grew into a wide-ranging collection of software and specifications that can be used to write programs on everything from mobile phones to mainframe computers.
In 1995, however, Java struck home with its mantra of "write once, run anywhere," which promised to make life easier for developers, who would no longer have to go through the time-consuming process of compiling their code to run on different types of hardware.
The story of Java includes some fantastic successes, missed opportunities, and a couple of acrimonious lawsuits. "It's been a rocket ride that nobody expected would ever get near this far," said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and chief operating officer.
Schwartz's comments came at the low-key 10th birthday party for Java, held in the shadow of the Clock Tower building that dominates Sun's Santa Clara, California, campus.
Java's birthday party felt a bit like a high school reunion as former Sun employees embraced co-workers they had left behind. There was free beer, pink popcorn, and ice cream bars. Sun had set up a dunk tank and even arranged a brief performance by Sun developer Hideya Kawahara, who played a ukulele that had been built to resemble Duke, the black-and-white dancing blob that has served as Java's mascot since its inception.
That Java's 10th birthday would even be remembered seemed an unlikely possibility in 1995. At that time, Java was an obscure technology left over from a failed interactive TV venture called FirstPerson.
But with the World Wide Web taking off, the FirstPerson team somehow managed to convince Sun’s legal department to let it take the unprecedented step of releasing the Java source code to the public.
Sun still placed controls over how the Java code could be redistributed, but the freely available source code was a hit with developers. "We did do it as close to open source as you could, and still be a corporation," said James Gosling, the creator of Java who now works as chief technology officer of Sun's Developer Products group.
By the time Java was publicly unveiled at the SunWorld user conference on May 23, 1995, it had already generated a buzz in the Web developer community, which was hungry for a secure language that could be used to create moving images on static HTML pages. After Sun arranged a last-minute deal to integrate Java into the Netscape Navigator Web browser, there was no looking back.
And developers jumped to Java. By 1996, Java had spawned its own conference, JavaOne, which attracted 6,000 attendees. Three years later, the show would draw more than 20,000.
For a while, it seemed that the entire high technology industry jumped on the Java bandwagon: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, and even Microsoft became licensees.
"There was a public alignment of all the leading players, the likes of which I had never seen before and I have never seen since," said Rick Ross, founder and president of JavaLobby.org, an organization for Java developers.