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The 'Green team' and the secret development of Java


The popular software platform's story starts with an employee having a beer with a superior.

Introduced in 1996, Java is still among the most widely used programming languages to this day. According to the contemporary owner of the platform, Oracle corporation, it's the most popular programming language.

However, the origins of Java go back to the early '90s, a time of checkered shirts and grunge music. At the time, Patrick Naughton, a 25-year-old programmer at the legendary US tech company Sun Microsystems, decided he's had enough.

In late 1990, after a game of hockey, Naughton sat down for a beer with his teammate and Sun's chief Scott McNealy. Naughton explained he was leaving the firm for NeXT, a tech company led by Steve Jobs at the time. Naughton's reason for departure was that Jobs’ company is 'doing things right.'

"Before you go, write up what you think Sun is doing wrong. Don't just lay out the problem. Give me a solution. Tell me what you would do if you were God," McNealy is said to have told Naughton.

Naughton took on the challenge and wrote up a list of things wrong with the company, with McNealy forwarding the letter to the entire management chain of the company.

Within a few months, Naughton, a legendary programmer James Gosling, and Mike Sheridan formed a 'Green team.' The team set out to design technology to program smart appliances. Given that 'smart' at the time was anything with a chip in it.

On April 8, 1991, the Green team physically moved from Sun's office and the company's internal systems to completely distance themselves from business practices Naughton disliked and to keep the project secret.

The first iteration of what eventually became Java was called Oak. Inventively named after an oak tree that stood outside the office space the team was working in at Menlo Park.

After almost three years of development, team members decided to shift the focus of the platform away from 'smart' appliances toward the rapidly emerging World Wide Web. A wise decision, given that the number of web users grew tenfold from 36 million when Java was introduced in 1996 to 361 million in late 2000.

The team, however, had to ditch the name 'Oak' as the name was already taken by Oak Technology, a now-defunct semiconductor supplier.

After an intense brainstorming session, several candidates emerged to replace the former name of the platform: DNA, Silk, Pepper, Neon, and of course, Java. The latter stuck. The legend goes that the name was concocted based on coffee. Specifically, the Indonesia-based Java coffee.

The finished project saw the light of day on January 23, 1996, with millions of users and developers still relying on the platform in the third decade of the 21st century.


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