There are very few technology announcements that can excite techies and non-techies, alike, but Oracle’s announcement that it is finally sunsetting the Java browser plugin should elicit a smile in just about anyone who has fought with web pages that don’t load because you are running an incompatible version or are annoyed by relentless auto-update popups every week.

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While most don’t mourn the loss of what eventually became one of the world’s most annoying pieces of software, this announcement serves as a testament to how far web-based technologies have come in the last 10 years.

Why Did it Exist?

In the early days of the web, you likely used IE, Netscape, or:: gulp:: AOL to view web pages. While there were some loose standards about how HTML and JavaScript should behave, these browsers basically went their own way so viewing a website in IE could look/behave vastly different than if you looked at the same site in Netscape. In addition, there wasn’t much support for dynamic behavior – the way the page looked when it loaded was how it was going to look until you left it and if you wanted anything graphically pleasing you needed to include a lot of images in order to get the look you wanted. Keep in mind that downloading images on a 56K modem was a pretty tall order back then, leading to slow load times or broken sites when the image download failed.

Sun Microsystems released the Java programming language in 1995 as a new way to write programs that you could “write once, run anywhere” rather than writing a different copy of the same program for every operating system you wanted it to run on. Part of this ecosystem was the Java plugin. So not only could you use Java to build applications that run on Windows or Mac, you could now use that same language to write highly interactive and graphically intensive programs that could run right in the browser. Additionally, Java would ensure that the experience would be the same regardless of what browser or operating system you were using. Even better, if you had the Java plugin installed, you wouldn’t need to actually install any other software. You just go to the web page of your choice and it would load everything you needed right then and there. Trust me, this was really cool stuff in the late 90’s, early 2000’s and if you ever played Text Twist you would agree.

A Slow Creep to Obsolescence

As time went on, however, more and more tools became available to a web developer’s arsenal in order to provide the same benefits that the Java plugin gave. We got CSS, JavaScript maturity, AJAX, better (and more standards-compliant) browsers, camera/microphone integration, long-term data storage in the browser, and so many other things that made writing web applications really easy and really effective without needing those old, clunky, and sometimes security-hole-creating plugins. Eventually, us developers just didn’t need that sort of stuff anymore to create really amazing web-based programs. We could do most of the same stuff using the tools that browsers gave us right out of the box. For instance, here is a list of some amazing programs that push modern browser capabilities to their limit – no plugins required!

The End of the Plugin is NOT the End of Java

While most people know Java as the annoying thing in their system tray that prompts them to update every few days and does stuff with their browser, Java the language and platform for developing applications is still quite alive and well. It is still among the most popular go-to languages for writing the server-side portion of cloud-based applications.

The triad of HTML/JavaScript/CSS rules the browser, but that browser still has to communicate with some remote web server and chances are that those servers are powered by Java. When you go home and binge House of Cards, know that most of Netflix’s infrastructure is written in Java. When you tweet how “I can’t believe that Frank Underwood just [SPOILER]”, know that in 2010, Twitter dripped their Ruby-based infrastructure for a Java-based one. Then when you decide you have to get the DVDs, you can search for the best price on Google and when it takes you to Amazon to buy them, know that Java powers most of the technology behind both. And last, but not least, when you send your aging loved one a message through LifeShare, Java will make sure that they know that they need to start watching House of Cards.

While Oracle’s announcement marks the (much anticipated) end of an era, it serves as a testament to how far the web technology community has come. Although nobody will miss constant reminders to update a program they almost never use anymore, we’ll continue to use Java technology in other areas to bring more amazing applications to the world.

System.exit(0), Java plugin… you’ll be missed.