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Simplify My Life
Jul 01, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

When's the last time you loaded a Java applet that was actually useful?

I've come across some damn silly ones lately, and am beginning to wonder when that other shoe is finally going to drop. Case in point: PBS Online's companion site to "Life on the Internet" has a wonderful textual history of the Internet, bogged down inside a Java applet. The only interactivity I could see were the forward and back buttons, which scrolled the reader through a dozen or so "pages." They must have had some extra (taxpayer) funding left over after filming the series and blew it on a few volumes of Addison-Wesley's Java Series.

Furthermore, will somone please explain to me why we need Java chat rooms and Java navigation bars and Java news tickers? Aren't IRC, image maps and plain old ASCII good enough?

A couple of high profile folks have started to question Java's usefulness. Paul Haeberli, editor of SGI's Grafica Obscura, and creator of the seminal Java applet "The Impressionist" has recently halted all of his development work on Java "until something major happens." In an email last week, Paul wrote:

JAVA is a technology, not a media format. It appeals to programmers, not designers or writers. HTML is what made the WEB successfull, not a general programming language running on the client side. JAVA is a marvelous SW creation - it's the perfect empty vessel that can be "filled" by any programmers' dreams. I just don't think it can hold anything long enough for someone else to take a sip....

Dave Winer, who knows a thing or two about content heavy web-sites, recently advised DaveNet readers that "the next time someone says they have the fastest justin-time Java byte-code garbage collector, be sure to ask them what you should use Java for. I haven't heard a good answer to this question, and I've been asking." Of course, this piece came before Dave went off the deep end (as he usually does) and started screaming about how Java will connect the world and bring universal peace through Remote Procedure Calls.

(Right, Dave.)

The obvious advice to the browser-builders: make things easier, not harder. Simpler, not more complex. Remember that the vast majority of users are connecting at trickle speeds, and appreciate simplicity. A browser should be lean, mean and fast. It should load text before images. Static images before animated GIFs. And anything before a Java applet. It should not include an email client (takes up room), nor a news client (takes up room, and is there anyone left that actually reads Usenet?). And don't even think about a net.telephone, collaboration tools or a QuickTime plugin. That's what real phones, white boards and VCRs are for.

Netscape and Sun need to wake up to the fact that the market for web products is not going to be driven by the power user connected to the corporate T1. It's going to be driven by the masses. The masses who will buy a Sony PC or a Sega "net cartridge," connect at 28.8k if they're lucky, and drive the advertising dollars which will fund the websites which will keep this medium viable into the next decade. Pay attention to the masses, and they'll pay attention to you.

Heck, that's what Microsoft's been doing for quite some time now...

P.S.: Overheard at a cocktail party in San Francisco. "I work for Fleischman's Yeast, and we're trying to set up a web site. We wanted to register, but heard it was already taken." It sure is -- and it's password protected, too. But I'm sure the Diamond V Web Development folks would gladly part with such a tasty domain name -- for a tasty fee. Of course, you could get lucky: they may not have paid their $100 to InterNIC.



Other pieces about client-side software: