The Future of Java Applets

Articles —> The Future of Java Applets

A Java Applet is a small application written in the Java language that can run through an internet web browser. Java applets provide functionality beyond what is capable through a static webpage alone, providing rich and dynamic content to users. Further, java Applets run within what was known as the sandbox - a secure environment which restricted access of the Applet to the users' computer. Ultimately, the attractiveness of Applets comes down to their usability: given the wide range of Java technologies, Applets look and feel very similar to that of a desktop application yet are run through a web browser.

When discussing the future of Java Applets, it should be beneficial to discuss their past. Applets have been around for almost twenty years since their release in 1995. Applets were adopted quite quickly into the internet, given both their easy and dynamic nature as well as their write once run anywhere Java capability. I recall Applets of all kinds: from Applets to animate text and images to Applets which provided a more fluid user interface - all techniques difficult through other means at the time.

In the world of technology, things change, and change fast. Since the introduction of Applets, web technology has greatly improved. In particular, Javascript (a technology with a name reminiscent of Java yet completely unrelated) and Flash have taken on a whole new level, as has server side scripting languages such as php. All provide competition to the applet for providing rich and dynamic web content at an even faster and, in some cases, better looking interface. Furthermore, a large portion of web browsing is now done on mobile devices such as smart phones or tablets, often capable of javascript and even flash, but incapable of running Applets.

Java Applets are intended to be run in a secure environment, yet this does not stop hackers from attempting to find security flaws. Most recently in late 2012, major security flaws related to Applets were discovered in the latest release of the Java Virtual Machine. This prompted Oracle to recommend removing Java from all web browsers. Although Oracle intends to make security a priority, It will take a huge effort in both maintenance and marketing on the side of Oracle to regain the reputation of the Applet as being a secure web technology.

So where does this leave the future of Java Applets? Applets have both stiff competition and an uphill climb out of the security abyss, leaving a lot of work in the hands of Oracle. I do not foresee Oracle placing as much effort as is needed on Applets to bring them back into mainstream. That being said, Applets are still being used on the internet and behind firewalls (intranet), so I do not foresee Applets becoming deprecated by Oracle in the near future. I do foresee however, Applets slowly becoming a relic of internet past - if this has not been achieved already. Note however, that Java itself is alive and well - this forecast refers only to the subset of Java technology: Applets.

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