Java Applets, 3D and the Demise of Plugins

The computer I’m using today is a refurb – a hot gaming machine from several years ago, with everything re-installed about 15 months ago. I got a nice deal on it from the local computer guy, and it has behaved flawlessly for all that time. And it was only now that I’ve discovered that I don’t even have Java installed in the thing. That’s how important it is, at least in my world, to be able to view content (or use functionality) that’s only available through Java. Which reminds me again – we’ve seen the demise of plugins.

The way I discovered I don’t even have Java, was a little bit depressing. I wanted a screenshot from my very old website, house0f3d.com, to accompany a little piece I was writing about the newest generation of View-Master. And there, on the page, where the applet should be, was a cheeky little “alt text” I’d written back in 1997 – “Get a darn java enabled browser, would you?

Ouch. This is how the website I wrote back in the day treats me now. As someone who has always been focused on the user’s experience, that can’t feel good.

But, in my own defence, and the defence of the content, back in 1997, Java wasn’t a plugin. If you had Netscape 3 or IE3, you had a Java enabled browser. But, in the meantime, browser-Java has faded into the background. First, it became a plugin. Then, it started asking your permission to run stuff. Now, it’s a plugin you can go get, bundled with other obnoxious 3rd-party stuff, install, set up in each individual browser, and still often have to give things permission to run. Nasty business. Hence, the dearth of Java-powered stuff on the web – and my ability to go 15 months without even knowing I don’t even have it installed.

Once I finally got in, (oh, man, that hurts) I grabbed screenshots galore. Here’s one of my old favourites:

Screenshot of Graph-in-a-box, a java applet from houseof3d.com

This is “3D Graph-in-a-Box”. A very popular applet back in the 20th Century and beyond, you could choose functions and appearances in the menus on the right – then spin the model around to see it from different angles, or in motion. You could even use various types of the old-fashioned two-colour 3D glasses, to make it look like the model had physical depth.

Screenshot of a red-blue 3D glasses graph viewing applet from houseof3d.com, 1997

(You can still visit this, at http://houseof3d.com/pete/applets/graph/index.html – and if you’re bold enough to let your Java have at it, it’s still pretty fun!)

But, now I can’t see it in a computer that serves me fine, without installing Java, configuring it in a browser, and giving permission to run the darn thing.

Google’s Webmaster Tools has warned me about this. Several times, they’ve sent me emails telling me that my stubborn use of plugins, and failure to adapt to the needs of mobile devices, was gonna be punished with really bad page rankings. And fair enough – If I Googled a 3D Graph, and wound up in this place that just said “Get a darn java enabled browser, would you?“, I might not stick around or come back. Ever.

Well. Now that it’s on the table, how bad is it? Do I even want to know? Of course I do. I know it won’t make me happy. But I gotta know. Drilled down into the Google Analytics to see just how severely the traffic for that one page and applet has been wiped out. And what I saw, surpassed my wildest expectations. Check this out:

Screenshot of web traffic graph for 3D Graph-in-a-box since 2010

During October of 2010, almost 13 years after it was originally published, the page enjoyed 4,744 pageviews for an average of 2 minutes and 54 seconds. That’s over 150 people per day, on average.

In January of 2016 – there were 86 pageviews. Less than 3 per day. That’s greater than 98% decline.

That – is obliteration.

The graph paints the picture.

The demise of plugins.

I’m gonna go think about something else for a while.

Screenshot of a 3D applet demonstrating the relative distances of stars in the constellation Scorpio.

 

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Author: Pete

Editor-in-Chief, Lead Software Developer and Artistic Director @ 3dspace.com

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