the problem of java

If I were a Charles Stross hero trying to save the universe from a runaway explosion of artificial intelligence (he wrote a very good short story on this very topic) I probably could do no better than to insist every computer run Java, the older the version the better.

If you have anything at all to do with the care and feeding of computers, you know what a pain in the ass Java is. On the weird Sony Win 8/Windows Media Center in my office, an alert pops up every day or so that “a new version is ready to install.” Some of the time that’s true – Java gets updated a lot – but mostly it’s just the dirt stupid Java check utility, which goes out, takes a look, and tells me I have the most recent version after all.

(Note to Oracle: this is terrible, self-defeating behavior. If you want to annoy a user into leaving the out of date, unpatched version of your program on his computer, just keep claiming over and over again that he needs to update. I promise you, after the first week or two of false positives, most people will ignore your messages, even the really important ones.)

The problem is that Java, like Kudzu, is hard to get rid of. I tried out my son’s Chromebook last night and figured out I could pretty much do everything I need to do except that-one-job-which-requires-Java. In my case, it’s a video editor, and I’m under the impression that a lot of people have their own version of the “one job.” Or as this morning’s Java installer reminded me, three billion devices run Java.

(Another note to Oracle: you’re a big, successful company. You don’t need to keep pimping the “Ask” toolbar and search engine every time someone installs a new version. I suppose you get a fair number of people who just let their guards down after doing three updates in two weeks, and maybe Larry Ellison needs the money, but I doubt it. You’re bigger than this. Seriously.)

Anyway, this article in The Verge sums up how a whole lot of us feel: “After so many hacks, why won’t Java just go away?” Also, the article explains something I didn’t know, how Adobe’s Flash program, which used to be a Java-sized problem, got a lot safer because Adobe started giving security companies a heads-up about security vulnerabilities.

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