The Next Big Thing

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2007-05-15 Print this article Print

What do you see as the next big thing? Whats the next big language or programming environment? And if you cant readily say what it is, what kinds of stuff would it have to have? It depends on your view of the scale of what the next big thing is needed. When youre building technology its always in service of something else. So the next big thing in development is triggered by the next big thing in the social evolution of the web or the way technologies go. And if you look at what triggered Java it was all about the implications of networking. And pretty much every design decision on Java in the early days was the difference between standalone computing and network computing.
So maybe the question is whats the next big thing thats going to cause that level of shift? And I guess I have a couple of candidates. One is that Im generally concerned about the way that multi-threading is going. The Moores Law exponential has been shifting over to the number of cores. Javas got a pretty good threading model that works pretty well for things like transaction processing. But for other kinds of problems… We seem to be doubling the number of cores every couple of years. The hot desktop machines right now have eight cores. You look forward 20 years and thats like an 8,000-CPU machine on the desktop. How the hell will anybody write programs for that?
And one of the really interesting questions for me is how that crosses over and what does that cross over to? One area that interests me is AI. And when you get to that level of power many AI techniques actually work. There have been studies to look at when the processing power of a desktop PC actually surpasses that of a human brain. And many of the guesses have said 2022. So what does programming look like in that world? And what does our relationship with those machines look like? Do you give Eclipse any credit for helping to spur innovation in the Java world? Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! We were sort of ambling around with NetBeans, and then when IBM released the whole Eclipse thing, it was like: Yeah, we like a good race. But even beyond the race. Some of the projects theyve spawned have advanced the platform considerably. Oh, yeah. But this is competition in terms of a sports match rather than a military conflict. Is Sun doing anything to help get more young people, under-represented people, and more women involved in computer science? Any educational initiatives? At some level Sun is a bunch of aging Berkeley hippies. Were OK with making money, but its really a cause. Its really kind of a strange company to work for. We do quite a lot. We support the BlueJ effort. They are a bunch of educators that really care about teaching kids. And one of their issues has been how do you motivate kids to want to learn to program. So they came up with Greenfoot, which is an extension to BlueJ where kids can build their own video game using Java. And theyve gotten pretty enthusiastic response. Youve spoken about having a daughter before; do you have any advice on how to get more women and young girls interested in computer science? Whats the magic potion? I have two of daughters, and I wish I knew. I have no ability to generalize. I have two specific cases. My older daughter… The fact that I am who I am has made her sort of resistant to even trying anything in the field. I tried really hard to get her interested in technology. I got her all kinds of books and toys, but she never paid any attention to them. But then with history books, she read Winston Churchills A History of the English-Speaking Peoples at like age nine and she read Mein Kampf at about that same year. And I cant read that stuff. But she took a programming course last semester and she actually admitted that she liked it. But my other daughter is totally different. She picks up Legos and builds things and we think shes going to be an engineer. So I dont know how you influence them. I dont think you really can influence them. You can just make sure they dont have social barriers. What do you think about the popularity of OSGi [the Open Services Gateway Initiative]? Sun was a backer of it and then you guys backed away. Well, it turned into a really strange patent corral… Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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