Client side Java, Take Two
October 23rd, 2008 by Ivo
Back in the late nineties, when many websites still looked like this, the people at Sun had a vision that the web could be so much more than static HTML. They created the concept of Java Applets that could be placed on webpages to make them richer and do stuff that HTML just couldn't. Like adding animated menus and hideous buttons.
This was quite the cool thing to have at the time, but there were a few fundamental problems. One: it was horribly slow. Nobody really cared because at 28K8 modem speed on a 486, anything was slow, so the few extra seconds it took to load the Java stuff was accepted, at least for a while. But the second problem was that it was quite unstable. More often than not, it would crash your browser. (There's actually about a 1 in 4 chance that the above link still crashed your browser today, 10 years later; the significant improvement is that Firefox will have remembered what page it crashed on and will let you re-experience the crash upon restart. Twice the fun.)
The concept is very much the same, both Flex and Silverlight allow you to create buttons! But this time, we use a Three Letter Acronym, because *THAT* was what Java failed, the lack of a proper Three Letter Acronym!
We call this modern variant of user interface richness: RIA, for Rich Internet Application (maybe it was supposed to stand for 'Rather Implemented an Applet' though). Like in the past, the idea is to do stuff in the browser that HTML won't let you.
Sun, who years ago created the RIA avant la lettre with their Java applets, must have watched this trend in amazement. And now that RIA's are in the early adopter stage and have enough momentum to become mainstream, it's time for them to give it another try. They are relaunching the applet idea with what they call 'JavaFX' (come on, that name just sounds like 'fancy button' all over again). Details on this can be read in this article on TechCrunch.
This time around however, more and more applications are webbased, so there's quite a big chance that this time, RIA technologies will catch on and outgrow their Button stages and give us some really compelling browser experience.
Time will tell. Let's look back at this in another 10 years or so.