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What caused the applet to fall...and what's next?

Recently I was tasked with rewriting TechTarget’s definition for “applet,” one that I admittedly was not too familiar with. But after a little research, I realized I must have interacted with applets thousands, if not millions, of times before.

An applet, essentially, is a very small application designed to perform a very specific function within another application. Often these are web applications, and the applet runs through a plugin. They are typically used for things like checkboxes or buttons, but can be used to create small animations, fetch data, run threads, buffer videos and more — and they were a popular option for a long time.

But as is common in history, new technological players came along to usurp the web development throne. JavaScript, HTML5, JavaFX and other scripting languages have managed to beat out applets both in terms of browser support and extra functionality. Browser and device diversity have also hurt applets, as there are fewer guarantees than ever that users will have the right plugins installed. In fact, Google Chrome has already phased out support for certain plug-ins, which will render many applets pretty useless.

In addition to stiff competition, there are also some security-related issues surrounding applets. Applets, like many things, can be used for malicious purposes. As such, applets almost always trigger a security prompt asking the user if they want to run it, which may concern and turn away some users.

Of course, if you’re willing to do the legwork, it’s still possible to run a Java applet on a webpage. However, while it’s possible, the consensus surrounding their use seems to be: “Why would you?”

It seems like no matter how popular a technology becomes, there’s nothing that can last forever in the development world. It does make me wonder what will be the next methodology to bite the dust — and for what.

What do you think? Have you used applets in the past and ditched them in favor of new approaches? Do you think the applet is still viable today? What do you think is the next technology on the chopping block? Let us know with your comments.