Java and Black Pepper - a match made in programmers’ heaven

In late 1995, I took a diskette (you know, the stuff we used before cloud storage) from my IBM PC and inserted it into an AIX machine that my colleague was using. He loaded the program onto his workstation and it executed just as it had done on my PC. I’ll never forget the feeling of boundless possibilities at that moment. The program was a simple animation written as a Java Applet, running in Netscape Navigator.

Java’s idea to write once run anywhere™ was especially important to IBM. Software at IBM at the time was split along the lines of the Hardware and the Operating Systems. Application software written for one OS would never be considered as a candidate product for a different OS.

It wasn’t just the cost of rewriting the application that stopped cross platform development. There was a mind set associated with each platform: Mainframes did financial transactions and the banks would never run that software on a PC, therefore cross platform development was not required. AIX was a specialist platform for running engineering applications and engineers don’t have access to mainframes so there was no point making that software cross platform.

Java provided the trigger for people to think differently about cross platform development at IBM, and this eventually changed IBM’s global software strategy.

Eighteen months later, I was a trainer at the 1997 Java World Tour explaining to dozens of companies what Java could do for them. It was while talking to businesses at this event that I began to see the real potential of a software development strategy based on Java.

In another eighteen months, I left IBM to join a specialist software consultancy called Parallax Solutions to learn how software service businesses work. Parallax had a strong relationship with Sun Microsystems, so it was perfectly placed to create innovative solutions using Java.

Finally, in 1999, John Cooke and I set up Black Pepper Software with a clear focus on solving complex business problems using software based on the Java platform. Over the past 16 years, both Java and Black Pepper have changed beyond recognition. One big change for Black Pepper came in 2003 when we started to adopt agile development practices.

In 2016, software at Black Pepper is still mostly Java based.

The whole eco-system that has been built around Java is what keeps it attractive to us. There is a wide array of open-source libraries that give access to best-in-breed technology and many tools that compliment our agile techniques. This means we can build very high-quality robust systems quickly and cost-effectively. The results might mean generating a completely new revenue stream, tripling revenue in a year for clients or solving a number of other business challenges and objectives.

Will we still be using Java as our platform of choice for general purpose application development in 5 years from now? Well, there’s a real threat to Java’s position coming from an unlikely contender in the form of JavaScript, so that’s a difficult question to answer. Originally developed by Netscape and released to coincide with the release of Java, JavaScript was designed for browser scripting. Today, with the development of NodeJS, JavaScript could easily become the language of choice for general purpose application development. We’ll just have to catch up again in 2021.

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