From Tiny Acorns . . .
Java was a programming language long before the World Wide Web was world wide, or even a web. The project that became Java began in 1990, when a group at Sun Microsystems, the leading maker of Unix workstations, set out to explore ways the company might enter the consumer-electronics market. A key member of this group was James Gosling, now a Sun vice president, who was probably best known at the time as the author of a version of the Emacs text editor. Gosling quickly put together the first version of a programming language meant for networked electronic appliances, such as set-top boxes or video games. The language was initially called Oak; the name was later changed to avoid a trademark conflict.
The consumer-electronics group at Sun had some hard years, which is not surprising since the market they aimed to serve is still inchoate. Then the Web came along, and suddenly their solution had found its problem. In 1994 two Sun engineers wrote a Web browser in Java, a predecessor of the HotJava browser available today. Then in May of 1995 Sun publicly released Java as a language for the Internet.
I don't mean to give the impression that Sun stumbled into the Java bonanza by blind luck. The company has a tradition of visionary thinking in computer networking. Indeed, Sun's corporate slogan was "The network is the computer" at a time when I for one didn't have a clue what that was supposed to mean.