Intranets are different from the Internet because they are private networks, set off from the rest of the world by firewalls. They also differ in that they often connect disparate corporate networks. And they often access corporate resources and databases that were built with non-Internet technology in mind.
In order to connect disparate networks, and in order to get at data residing on legacy databases and systems, custom programs need to be written. There are many ways that those programs can be created. Many people believe that the Java programming language, created by Sun Microsystems, may eventually become the programming glue that holds intranets together.
The primary reason for Java to be the programming language of choice for intranets is that it is platform-independent. That means that programs written in Java can run on a wide variety of computers, including PCs, Macintoshes, and UNIX workstations. In addition to being platform independent, Java was designed with lots of classes and methods for dealing with sockets, URLs, and other technical pieces of the process.
Java is similar to the C++ computer language that is already used by many programmers, and it is object-oriented so that new applications can be built from pre-existing components, two more reasons that intranet developers may favor the language.
Like many programming languages, Java is a compiled language, so that after it's written, it must be run through a compiler to allow computers to understand it. But in Java, only a single compiled version of the program is created. That single compiled program can run on many different computers, such as PCs, Macintoshes, and SPARC workstations. Other languages require that the completed program be compiled separately for each type of computer, which results in several different versions of the code. This requires a substantial amount of programming work and debugging.
Java is so important to intranet applications that hardware and software companies such as IBM have released special Java add-ons and libraries to allow Java developers to tap into legacy databases, such as IBM mainframes. This may accelerate the move toward Java on intranets.
Java can be used for far more than tapping into databases. It can create interactive multimedia applications as well. A common use of Java is to create a news ticker broadcasting the latest news that people can click on to get more details. This can be used on intranets for presenting company information and news. What happens behind the scenes here is that a file is written, read, and "printed" to the screen. This process also allows people to choose to turn it off. Depending on the applet, the hit on the client resources (like memory) will vary. Basically, though, the larger the applet, the more resources are required. Java can also be used to create programs that help people navigate through an intranet more easily, and more easily "mine" the enormous amounts of data locked up in corporate databases.
Java, a programming language developed by Sun Microsystems, is expected to be one of the cornerstones of building an intranet. Using Java, programmers can tie into corporate data from an intranet, enabling use of legacy systems such as databases. Java can also be used by programmers, editors, and artists to create multimedia programming. Java will also be able to create customized intranet programs for everything from workgroup computing to electronic commerce.