Should you uninstall Java now?

It’s a black time for Java. There was a time when Java was an essential part of the World Wide Web experience. It was so pervasive it showed up in unlikely places: Blu-ray disc players and other small appliances used it, and smartphones even processed the simpler javascript commands. Now the call comes from several corners of the internet saying that Java is obsolete at best and a major security hole at worst.

Java itself has been around almost as long as the public internet. It debuted in 1994 as a way to get web pages to do things like update automatically, to play animations and store data that was retrieved in forms. Believe it or not, the earliest form of HTML did little more than display formatted text with links, and the creators of Java saw far more opportunities than that.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Java was never a speed demon. It was never Superman, or even Superfly. It was a means to an end, a way to make certain things happen on the web and enrich the experience.

While Java was a must-have in the early 2000s, it began to look like a dinosaur by the late 2000s. Steve Jobs famously announced that there would be no Java for the iPhone (although it would process simple javascripts) because, according to this article from the day, Mr. Jobs said it was “not worth building in [to the phone]. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain.”

By that point, most users were only familiar with Java because it updated itself with no new features, more than nine times every year, and sneakily asked you to install toolbars and crapware that you would not normally install. At a time that Java should have been seeking to prove itself as a solid, reliable necessity, it became associated with lower-end web companies that sought a free ticket to your desktop.

The next downward step in the Java story came in 2010, when Apple removed Java from its default installation on Mac computers. It simply wasn’t necessary, said Apple staff, when HTML had improved to the point where it could handle all of Java’s functions.

It’s too early to tell but the death blow for Java might have been this year when the internet exploded over finding a critical security flaw in Java, so critical that it may not even be possible to patch it.

If you currently run Java you might not be aware that you probably don’t need it. Most web sites today are at least aware of mobile devices, and if the sites you visit look fine on your smartphone or tablet they don’t need Java. If you’ve never seen a large coffee-cup icon on your screen while something is loading you probably don’t need Java. Some special-purpose desktop and web apps need it but they usually show the Java icon while they are loading.

Java was a must-have in 2005, but today it’s looking like a must-miss. Unless you know for certain that you need it, we at The Solid Signal Blog recommend that you uninstall Java completely and try living without it for a month. It’s a remnant from an earlier time, a time without malware and without so much risk. Some old-time technologies (like vinyl records and 1960s American cars) are worthy of nostalgia, but this one is not. This is more like the dial-up modem and manual credit-card machine… something we would all be best to live without.