ARCHIVE / Should we use Java applets on our web site?

Client-side Java, otherwise referred to as Java applets, were once thought to be a good way to bring extensive software functionality to web pages. The idea was that a developer could create a Java applet once and run it anywhere, in any browser. However, experience has proved there to be problems with this approach. The most immediate problem is the time it takes to load the Java Virtual Machine (VM). Because the VM is required to be running in order to run an applet, it can take a substantial amount of time for the VM to be loaded from disk into memory when a page containing an applet is accessed in addition to the time it takes to download and run the Java applet code itself. The second problem is that applets may require specific versions of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). If the version required by the applet is greater than that of the existing JRE being used by the web browser, the JRE will need to be updated by way a fairly sizable download, incurring additional delay. The third problem is that Java applets rely on the computer resources of the client computer, which can vary substantially due both to differences in hardware and limitations associated with running concurrent applications. Java applets may thus be slow to run or limit system resources being shared with other important software applications. The fourth problem is that not everyone actually has a Java Runtime Environment set up. This means that a long and laborious installation procedure must be undertaken before being able to start loading the applet. The fifth problem is that it is harder to create a graphically appealing Java applet than it is to create a graphically appealing web application using other means. While this can be addressed to some extent by the use of Java layout managers and other tools, software developers tend to focus on making applets work sufficiently without regard to appearance.

So, to directly address the question, whether you should use Java applets on your web site depends on whether the following conditions are true.

  1. Do you need software functionality that cannot easily be provided by other means?
  2. Is your intended audience willing to put up with delays in the start-up of your application?
  3. Do you know for certain that an adequate JRE is installed on the computers that will be running the application or that the users of the application will be able and willing to install the JRE?

In the vast majority of cases, the answer to at least one of these questions will be no.  So, in conclusion, it is generally not advisable to use Java applets for extending web page functionality.

last updated 2007.09.21

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