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James Gosling
Mastermind of Java
By Barbara Gibson

James Gosling “I do most of my engineering on my PowerBook,” James Gosling states flatly. “I find it dramatically more efficient than a desktop system because, on one hand, it has all the power of a full-blown UNIX desktop. On the other hand, I can take it with me because it has all of the laptop stuff. I can work on a airplane, at home, in a corner when I’m sitting in a boring meeting. And it’s able to do not just email and browsing, it’s got fully-functional, high-end software development tools.”

Bringing the Internet to Life
Dressed in blue jeans, Birkenstocks and a t-shirt, Gosling could easily be mistaken for your typical card-carrying geek. Even Gosling’s desk, spattered with bits of paper and a pile of toys, is characteristically geekish.

But James Gosling is an alpha geek. The mastermind behind Java, he created the programming language that brought the Internet to life and can be found in everything from smartcards to cell phones. And today, as a fellow and vice president of Sun Microsystems, he travels the world giving speeches, evangelizing Java and writing software on his PowerBook.

“Mac OS X on a Mac,” he says, “is very much a UNIX machine, so it’s got all the creature comforts. People who have been in the UNIX/BSD community for years have gotten used to all kinds of little utilities — such as the ability to write command line scripts and drive it at a fairly low level. All of these deep tools are just there. And they just work.”

Semantic Modeling
These days, Gosling spends most of his time working with his research team at Sun to create a high-end tool that does semantic modeling for software developers. Designed to deal with today’s massively complex systems, semantic modeling gives developers sophisticated ways to analyze the structure of an application.

“People in the UNIX/BSD community have gotten used to all kinds of little utilities. All of these deep tools are just there. And they just work.”Developers, Gosling says, “love developing on UNIX platforms because they’re rock solid. They have all the right security properties. But the reality is that developers need a volume deployment platform. And one of the nice things for Java development on Macs is that developers can build things for the platform that they love. But if you write Java programs, you can also deploy on Windows or big server boxes. You aren’t forced by your user community to just slavishly do the PC thing.”

Gosling and his development team, he says, “almost all have PowerBooks. It’s amazing how many of them are showing up these days. They’ve been really popular at work. A certain amount of their appeal is little things. I do a lot of public speaking and the PowerBook automatically does the right stuff when I plug it into a projector. Also the PowerBook is the first machine that I’ve seen where the lid mechanism on the laptop actually works. You can close the lid and open it again and it’s still running. Seems like a small thing, but it truly works.”

Next page: Linking Phones and Locomotives


James Gosling
1. Mastermind of Java
2. Linking Phones and Locomotives
3. The Language of Networking

Driven by Gizmos

James Gosling loves gizmos. Even while he was growing up near Calgary, Alberta, his bedroom was often littered with the guts of television sets. He scrounged dumpsters for machine parts he could turn into homemade games. He wired bushes on Halloween to behave like screaming banshees. And shortly after he saw his first computer — age 14, at the University of Calgary — Gosling began breaking into the computer center to play with the computers and, in his words, “read, read, read.” A year later, at 15, he began writing software for the university’s physics department.

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