Sun Microsystems held a conference here last week that showed off what the future of computing and computer programming may be like. Indeed, some would say it has already happened.The JavaOne conference was a gathering of the faithful and an engineering critique session at the same time. The Java programming language was created at Sun Microsystems over a period of six years. It was originally designed in the hope that it would solve problems of machines needing to communicate with each other. It then was thought of as a solution for video-on-demand. With the recent phenomenal growth of the Internet, Java has become the programming language of choice for many developers and electronics companies because Java is the closest thing possible so far to a platform-independent language and programming environment. Over the past nine months Java has nearly taken over the Internet. Companies are rushing to support Java, not only in operating systems, but now in chips as well. The attendees were all developers of Java software and many of them were avowedly anti-Microsoft. Nearly every speaker at the conference had something to say that was a jibe at Microsoft, either directly or indirectly. On the first day of the conference, keynote speaker, James Gosling, a vice-president at Sun and one of the engineers who helped create Java, said: 'As we tried to build this thing, the tools kept breaking.' He was referring to the fact that much of Java was initially modelled on C++. Later, the language changed in ways that make it for the most part a far more robust language than C++. When it was done, Sun put it on the Internet and it became an instant success. 'We put it on the (World-Wide) Web and then things got really loony,' Mr Gosling said. The point of putting it on the World-Wide Web was to let every programmer interested in it scrutinise it and then send comments back to Sun. This is in line with almost everything Sun has ever done: it creates systems such as the network file system (NFS) and then makes them open to all. Eric Schmidt, chief technology officer at Sun, said that the purpose of Java was to run: 'Anytime, any where, on any platform.' It is being hailed as the programmer's holy grail and most of those who were there would agree. Scott McNealy, the chief executive officer of Sun spoke of the licensing agreement between Sun and Microsoft. 'This is the first time they licensed software without buying the company too,' he said. At the same time he also admitted that destroying the desktop PC was not Sun's goal. PCs will be with us for a long time to come, he said. Even though we have banks, he said, there are still people who stuff their mattresses with money. He still continued to talk about the nightmarish problems of maintaining a PC. The crashes, the reboots, the software upgrades. He then mentioned some of the deals being made to support Java. Corel announced that it was going to rewrite all of WordPerfect in Java. The Taiwanese government has licensed Java and signed up 22 companies to put Java and Java chips in electronic products. Every day the list seems to get bigger. Mr McNealy mentioned his dog, Network. 'Get on Network time,' he said. This was a reference to the speed with which things happen on the Net. A human year is said to be seven years for a dog. Getting on Network time means doing things fast. He emphasised the need to stay open, to test things on the Net, to seek ubiquity first and then money later. The example here is Netscape, the company that is still doing a lot of business, even though the main product is available for free. 'If the market won't take it for free, they certainly won't pay for it,' Mr McNealy said. He also emphasised the fact that with an environment like Java, small companies had a chance to succeed. 'In the old days, the publishers had the power. Microsoft is a powerful publisher,' he said. 'We have spent more today than we have in the history of Java,' he said. He said that China would be a good market for Java, the network computer (NC) or Java Box, as some are calling it. He could not understand why the Chinese were so happy buying Microsoft products and helping America with its national debt. He recognised that places like Shanghai were moving ahead rapidly and he would be keen to see Java and Sun products used there. He did not say that there was any particular marketing plan at the moment to target China or any other Asian countries. On the last day of the conference, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World-Wide Web and now at MIT with the W3 Consortium, gave the keynote speech. It was the most technical of all and in some ways was the most warmly received. He talked about the World-Wide Web and Java and revolutions. 'A revolution must leave the world with a different way of looking at itself,' Mr Berners-Lee said. The host for the event was John Gage, the director of Sun's Science Office. Mr Gage said on the final day: 'Those who have been technically incompetent will go away.' He did not mention anyone by name and he did not say if the speed of their demise would be in dog years or human years.