In the mid-nineties, when the web was young, Sun introduced a technology that brought some of the power of desktop applications into the browser. We all remember waiting for Java applets to load so that we could play a game or join a chat. We also all remember the horrendous security record of that technology — a legacy we’re still dealing with today.
In a move largely forced by browser developers, Oracle has announced that the Java browser plugin will be deprecated later this year with the next major release of Java. Google Chrome no longer supports the plugin standard that the Java plugin needs. Mozilla will abandon the plugin standard later this year. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still has support, but the newer Edge browser does not.
With modern browser vendors working to restrict and reduce plugin support in their products, developers of applications that rely on the Java browser plugin need to consider alternative options such as migrating from Java Applets (which rely on a browser plugin) to the plugin-free Java Web Start technology.
The Java plugin isn’t being abandoned completely — and enterprises that still rely on Java in browsers have some time to implement alternatives, but for consumer-facing applications, Java in the browser is done.
One of the most interesting aspects of this development isn’t the retirement of a mostly-dead technology, but the power that the browser manufacturers have to force other companies to implement changes that they would otherwise be unwilling to make. The ending of support for Java in major browsers has forced Oracle to deprecate a tool that has been causing headaches for decades. Flash is headed in a similar direction — Adobe recently changed the name of Flash Professional to Adobe Animate CC, which still supports Flash and Air but has HTML5 Canvas as a first-class citizen. With the removal of the browser plugin framework, it’s likely Microsoft’s Silverlight — which is still used by some streaming video services — isn’t long for this world in its current form. Microsoft is actively discouraging its use and advising site owners to adopt HTML5-based solutions instead.
At the beginning of the web era, browsers were often roundly criticized for being hostile to open standards. In the modern web era, browser developers — including Satya Nadella’s Microsoft — are becoming the champions of open standards and forcing other companies to adapt or lose market share.