Where is Java Today?ΒΆ

A few weeks ago a coworker walked into my office to talk about the architecture of a project, complete with diagrams, numbers I didn’t grasp (nor really need to,) and the examples of potential off the shelf components that would make up the stack of the application at hand. I asked scores of questions and I think it was a productive encounter. Normal day, really. I seem to be the guy developers come to and pitch ideas to for feedback. Not sure why but I thin think that the experience of talking through a programing or design problem tends to be a productive learning experience for everyone. In any case the details aren’t terribly important

What stuck in my head is that an off the self, but non-trivial part of the system was written in Java.

We all inhaled sharply.


I don’t know what it is about Java, and I don’t think it’s just me, but the moment I find out that an application is written in Java, I have a nearly visceral reaction. And I don’t think it’s just me.

Java earned a terrible reputation in the 90s, because although it was trumped as the next big thing every user facing application in Java sucked: first you had to download a lot of software (and hope that you got the right version of the dependency) and then when you ran the app it took a while to start up and looked like crap. And then your system ground to a halt and the app crashed. But these problems have been fixed: the dependency issue is more clear with the GPLing of Java, GUI bindings for common platforms are a bit stronger, computers have gotten a lot faster, and perhaps most importantly the hopes of using Java as the cross platform application development environment have been dashed. I think it’s probably fair to say that most Java these days runs on the server side, so we don’t have to interact with it in the same sort of hands on way.

This isn’t to say that administering Java components in server operations is without problems: Java apps tend to run a bit hot (in terms of RAM,) and can be a bit finicky, but Java applications seem to fit in a bit better in these contexts, and certainly have been widely deployed here. Additionally, I want to be very clear, I don’t want to blame the language for the poor programs that happen to be written in it.

Here are the (hopefully not too leading) questions:

1. Is the “write once run everywhere,” thing that Java did in the beginning still relevant, for server-based applications? It’s a server application after all, you wouldn’t be loosing much by targeting a more concrete native platform.

2. Is the fact that Java is statically typed more of hindrance in terms of programmer time? And will the comparative worth of Java’s efficiency wear off as computers continue to get more powerful

Conventional wisdom being that while statically typed apps “run faster,” but take longer to develop. This is the argument used by Python/Perl/Ruby/etc proponents, and I don’t know how the dynamics of these arguments shift in response to the action of Moore’s Law.

3. One of the great selling points of Java is that it executes code in a “managed” environment, which provides some security and safety to the operator of the system. Does the emergence of system-level visualization tools make the sandboxing features of the JVM less valuable?

4. I don’t think my experiences are particularly typical, but all of the Java applications I’ve done any sort of administrative work with have been incredibly resource intensive. This might be a product of the problem domains. Using Java is often like slinging a sledge hammer around, and so many problems these days don’t really require a sledge hammer.

5. At this point, the amount of “legacy” Java code in use is vast. I sometimes have trouble understanding if Java current state is the result of all of the tools that have already been invested in the platform or the result of actually interesting and exciting developments in the platform. Like Clojure. Is Clojure (as an example,) popular because Lisp is cool again and people have finally come to their senses (heh, unlikely) or because it’s been bootstrapped by java and provides a more pain free coding experience for Java developers?

Anyone have ideas on these points? Questions that you think I’m missing?

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2010-03-15

  • tychoish
  • cyborg, programming

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tychoish is a blog about software, science fiction, community, music, knitting, and economies with particular attention to their past and future histories. Produced in Brooklyn by tycho garen.

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