The Prehistory of Java

Late 1970's
Bill Joy begins thinking about a language that merges the best features of MESA, an experimental language from Xerox, and C. However other projects (like cofounding Sun) intervene.

Late 1980's
Sun's engineers begin a complete revision of the UNIX operating system that involved merging SunOS 4.x with AT&T's SYSVR4. This will eventually become Solaris.

Patrick Naughton joins Sun and goes to work with James Gosling and many others on NeWS, a windowing system that went nowhere, largely as a result of its proprietary nature.

Joy sells his Sun stock, invests heavily in Microsoft, and movev out of mainstream Sun to Aspen, Colorado.

Joy is getting tired of huge programs. He decides that he wanted to be able to write a 10,000 line program that makes a difference. He writes a paper called Further which pitches Sun engineers on the idea that they should produce an object environment based on C++. Today, however, Joy freely admits that C++ was too complicated and not up to the job.

Sun Distinguished Scientist James Gosling (of emacs fame) has been working for several months on an SGML editor called "Imagination" using C++. Gosling gets thoroughly frustrated with C++.

The Oak language (now Java) grew out of Gosling's frustration with C++ on his "Imagination" project. Gosling claims that he named Oak when he looked out his window and saw a tree. However early Sun papers refer to Oak as the "Object Architecture Kernel." It is unknown whether the name or the acronym came first. In either case the Oak name did not survive a trademark search and was changed to Java in 1995.

Naughton discovers NeXT, and decides to leave Sun to go to work at NeXT. He tells Sun CEO Scott McNealy about over beer after a hockey game. McNealy asks him to write a letter about what he thinks is wrong with Sun. Since he's leaving anyway, Naughton writes an extremely negative email about NeWS and Sun's entire culture.

Naughton's email is forwarded around the company, to a chorus of "That's what I thought, but I didn't want to say so." (After all, not everyone was planning to leave Sun the next day.) In particular, Bill Joy and James Gosling felt similarly.

To keep Naughton, Sun made him a counter-offer. He would be allowed to create a small team of engineers outside of mainstream Sun in order to "do fewer things better."

Thus Patrick Naughton started the Green Project on December 5th, 1990. That month he recruits Gosling and Mike Sheridan to help start the project. Bill Joy shows them his Further paper. and work begins on graphics and user interface issues for several months in C.

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Copyright 1997 Elliotte Rusty Harold
Last Modified Sunday, March 9, 1997