MEME 1.09

MEME 1.09

Since Java's release in March 1995, when the San Jose Mercury News leaked its location on the Net, this programming language designed by Sun Microsystems has captured the imagination of just about everyone -- programmers, frustrated commercial content providers, and, of course, Wall Street, which sent Sun Microsystems' stock price up 100% in the past six months. Designed to add a new level of interactivity to the World Wide Web, Java is seen as somehow improving the nature of electronic information.

Java is the product of several people, but one, James Gosling, stands out as the lead designer behind the project. Gosling, beset by interview requests in the wake of the Java-quake, gives few. I managed to spend 30 minutes with him, by phone that is, and what follows is a transcript of our conversation. Interviews will now be a regular feature of MEME, since the previous interview, with Nicholas Negroponte (MEME 1.07), seemed to please most of you.

David Bennahum: I'm glad I got you on the phone. Let's start out with a little biographical context before getting into Java. When did you come to Sun Microsystems?

James Gosling: I came to sun 11 years ago from IBM research.

DB: And you came initially to work on what exactly?

JG: On the windows systems and graphics.

DB: Was that always your field of expertise?

JG: Well, I've been all over the map. I've done OS stuff, compilers and languages, real-time data collection, multiprocessor stuff.

DB: But you came to Sun to work on interface stuff?

JG: Well, when I came to Sun, that was what I had done most recently. It wasn't necessarily what I was most interested in doing.

DB: What was it then that you really wanted to be doing?

JG: What tends to happen with me is that I get something in my head that I want to do and the tools don't work so I end up building tools and regressing backwards: "well the tools aren't there so I better build tools for that." So I end up spending most of my time building tools and not what I originally set out to do.

DB: Maybe that's a good thing.

JG: Yeah. Maybe. I wound up cranking out a lot of interesting tools over the years.

DB: That's what it seems like. What are some of those tools you've created, that you're particularly proud of -- before Java?

JG: I created the EMACS editor. I did the original one for Unix. It is a text editor that has become really really popular on the Internet. It is a programmer's tool -- it doesn't do fancy documents -- it is not for typing letters or writing books, it is for writing programs. Back then the things that were revolutionary and unusual were things like that it did multiple windows. You could work on more than one document at a time. These days that is sort of ordinary, but 18 years ago when that was done it was a different thing. A lot of what was unusual about it was that it was a very flexible system, you could program it to do whatever you wanted. That has been a theme in my life, building systems that are very flexible and very programmable, so you can take the tool and mold it to do whatever you want it to do. The facilities for doing that molding in EMA