So why isn’t it dead yet?
Sit right back and you’re hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip…
#1 — Java applets
Yes, Java was “the way, the truth and the light” for a number of years, but the light turned to darkness and the truth became not-so-much and Java’s “way” became servers, not clients.
A valiant attempt, but as a boisterous Texan once told me: “that dog don’t hunt”.
#2 — Java… again… once more… with feeling!
Whole browsers built out of Java! That was the promise.
At the point that applets started to fail, the Java crowd started to wind up the “ok, we’ll just build whole applications out of Java!” narrative. For a while Netscape even had a project, “JavaGator”, that was an attempt to build a complete web browser in Java.
Java-based browsers defined the term “failure to launch” and didn’t even achieve the same level of resounding success that Java applets did.
#3 — Flash… in the pan
I have to say, Flash had Flash Studio going for it which was a nice tool and was ahead of its time.
But Flash was proprietary, slow, very buggy, a memory hog, a binary format and a never ending source of security problems. Adobe even tried to kill SVG on the desktop — a format they had a hand in inventing — because they saw it as an open standard Flash competitor. Oh, and Flash required a plugin. Oh, and it was meant to really do fancy graphics, not to build apps (how do you build apps using the abstraction of ‘timelines’ anyway? People tried…)
Thank you Steve (RIP) for putting a stake through the heart of this one.
And so Flash went… right down the pan.
#4 — Have you seen the light? The Silverlight?
Not to be outdone by Adobe, Microsoft (at that time, playing the role of Galactic Empire with Steve “no one’s gonna buy an iPhone!” Ballmer as Palpatine) decided to make a run at their own version of the “use our proprietary plugin/runtime” game.
Except it was still a plugin… and proprietary… and a binary format… and a memory hog. It was, admittedly, more secure and less buggy than Flash.
To their credit, Microsoft killed this one themselves.
As soon as they “saw the [not Silver] light” (about the same time that Palpatine was unceremoniously ejected for failing to predict that actually hundreds of millions of people wanted to buy iPhones), organizational moves were made to deprecate Silverlight and focus on the Web.
Goodbye Silverlight — we hardly knew ye.
#5 — (Web)Assemble the forces!
WebAssembly never really got off the ground.
WebAssembly, despite its name, was not intended to be a “common assembly language for the Web”, but a way to write performant compute-intensive web applications, such as games.
As it turned out, initial versions of WebAssembly didn’t do well with garbage collected languages. And the performance still isn’t what was originally promised by having a binary-ish format (which, to be honest, surprises me).
Nice try, though.
It has shocked me how many body blows this language has taken over the years and still it stands, like a bruised boxer in the ring.
But as my friend and business partner Scott Shattuck says, one reason is “Location, location, location”.
Ironically, its usage outside of the web browser is only increasing.
But you said it will die.