Some revolutions catch the world by surprise. Twitter, the Linux operating system, and Pawn Stars all rose to prominence unexpectedly.

The remarkable success of the Java programming language, on the other hand, caught nobody by surprise. Java has been a source of great expectations since its introduction 20 years ago. When Java was introduced in web browsers, a torrent of publicity welcomed the arrival of the new language.

Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy proclaimed, “This represents the end result of nearly 15 years of trying to come up with a better programming language and environment for building simpler and more reliable software.”

Sun, which created Java in 1991 and first released it to the public four years later, was acquired ...

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