AMONG JAVA'S MOST ENTHUSIASTIC SUPPORTERS IS a small but influential group of computer executives who see in the new programming language an almost visionary opportunity. With it, they believe, today's increasingly powerful and complex desktop machines can be replaced with something far simpler and a good deal cheaper.

The idea is straightforward. Instead of buying bigger and bigger hard drives to store programs that seem to grow more monstrous with every upgrade, why not let the Internet be your hard drive? The World Wide Web contains more data than you'll ever use. Java, in theory, can retrieve all the software you...

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