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A Short History of Nearly Everything Java

A zero-code glance at the Java machine

Most people talk about Java the language, and this may sound odd coming from me, but I could hardly care less. At the core of the Java ecosystem is the JVM.
– James Gosling, Creator of Java

Big questions from the muggle community

If a non-developer asked you “What is Java?”, how would you respond? Sure, you can give the Wikipedia definition, which is this:

Java is a computer programming language that is concurrent, class-based, object-oriented, and specifically designed to have as few implementation dependencies as possible. It is intended to let application developers “write once, run anywhere” (WORA), meaning that code that runs on one platform does not need to be recompiled to run on another. Java applications are typically compiled to bytecode (class file) that can run on any Java virtual machine (JVM) regardless of computer architecture.

Seems reasonable. But this answer cannot stand up to simple inquiries about “who makes Java”, could it? Indeed, could you answer questions from a muggle about how new features get added, who decides what features do or don’t make it to future versions, and how does a team of dedicated Java platform engineers and random developers around the world influence the language? Have you ever wondered what the whole “Java” thing is really about, and why, for Pete’s sake, did it take so long to get lambdas into Java? ;-)

Potentially not. And that’s why we thought it would be cool to write a report that covers, well, basically everything we can think of about Java that doesn’t have to deal with the actual code itself. Regardless of whether you’re a developer, architect or team manager, knowing about how Java is planned, executed, shipped and basically made available consistently and reliably around the world, from students in Afghanistan to former .NET architects switching sides to Java in California, is a pretty good thing.

In this report, we aim to give you a decent overview of the projects the Java community is based upon and clarify how these evolve over time, how you can take part in the development of the Java platform and contribute back to the ecosystem that supports all of us. Finally, we want to help you answer the biggest question: why do we want the Java platform to prosper and move forward, despite all the hipster opinions that Java is dead?

How popular is Java really?

It is easy to underestimate the importance of Java in the modern world. One might think that Java is just another programming language like hundreds of others, and not even the most modern one at that!

However, the power and influence of Java comes more from the the state-of-the-art virtual machine, the JVM, which is responsible for executing programs compiled from Java or other JVM languages like Scala, Groovy, Clojure and others.

Java has repeatedly topped two of the industries most well-respected language indices: Redmonk’s Quarterly Programming Language Rankings and the TIOBE programming language index. Clearly, Java has some extreme weight in the software development community.

a short history of nearly everything java report redmonk programming language rankings

In terms of numbers of meatbags writing code, Oracle estimates that there are 9 million Java developers in the world, which puts the a vast human force behind the language in addition to heavy online activity. The number of people involved in programming in Java is not surprising, the innovative JVM platform has made it easy for Java to grow into almost all areas where technology is involved. If we don’t get distracted by the fact that Java dominates enterprise and web-application development, we’ll find Java powering billion of devices: smartphones, TV’s, embedded devices that are commonly referred to as Internet of Things, IoT.

TIOBE programming community index short history of nearly everything java


  • There is at least one more certified JVM that you did not mention: Excelsior JET ( Developed in Novosibirsk, Russia, it has been on the market since 2000, and was certified Java Compatible in 2005. The main distinctive feature of Excelsior JET is its Ahead-Of-Time (AOT) compiler, which takes your jar files as input and produces an optimized native executable for Windows, OS X, or Linux. AOT compilation benefits are dual: it hinders reverse engineering of your app, and at the same time improves the end-user experience through faster startup, smaller footprint and JRE-independency.

    Disclaimer: Yes, I work for Excelsior.

  • I used JET for a consumer software product at my old company. It allowed us to distribute our software without worrying about whether the customer had a JRE installed. It worked great, and Excelsior support was excellent (even though we were a tiny company not paying for a big support contract).

    I don’t have a use for JET now (everything is web-based for me at the moment), but I’m glad to hear that you’re still going strong. Keep up the good work!

  • Oleg Šelajev

    Great point, Dmitry. For brevity, we didn’t describe all the existing JVM implementations, not even all the certified ones. Just the most major ones.

    So, big thanks for contributing the info!

  • Debbie Fuller

    Nice blog Oleg, but there is another certified JVM that was missed off from Waratek ( With a team of experienced dedicated JVM developers it is Oracle certified Java compatible and was initially developed to provide multitenancy with elastic memory and application isolation. (

    The containment and isolation that the in built hypervisor provided has since been expanded to provide ‘Runtime Application Self Protection’ for Java apps. This is the first time that RASP has been provided within the JVM. Because the JIT compiler can intelligently interpret messages, it avoids ‘false positives’ and ‘gracefully blocks’ attacks. This protects applications from SQLi, Zero Day attacks as well as providing virtual patching for Legacy Java. (

    We’re going to be at JavaOne and hope to meet up with you there!

    Disclaimer: Yes, I do work for Waratek!

  • Thank you for your kind words, Chris.