LAS VEGAS —A group of high-profile Java watchers discussed the future of the Java language and platform, including challenges Java faces on the Web tier, the impact of dynamic languages and the onslaught of open-source software, on March 25 at TheServerSide Java Symposium here.
The panel, which led off the last day of the conference, touched on many issues that Sun Microsystems and Java Creator James Gosling face on a daily basis of late. Just last week, Gosling posted a blog entry defending his position on dynamic or scripting languages.
And sure enough, the scripting issue became a key part of the panel discussion. The panel consisted of Ari Zilka, president and CEO of Terracotta; Bruce Snyder, a senior architect at LogicBlaze; Bruce Tate, an independent consultant from Austin, Texas; Cameron Purdy, president of Tangosol; Floyd Marinescu, founder of TheServerSide; and Rod Johnson, CEO of Interface21 and founder of the Spring framework.
“I think Java is in trouble on the low end because Java is not approachable anymore,” said Tate, who noted he does work with the Ruby scripting language and the Ruby on Rails framework.
Tate said one of the places Java will see pressure from is “from the Ruby community. With Ruby you dont get quick and dirty, you get quick and clean. So you either see simplicity around Java or youll see scripting languages take over—theres a gaping hole.”
Moreover, Tate said he believes that “Java is going to have a harder time growing the population of Java programmers.”
Tate said he has been working not only with Ruby but with JRuby, a scripting language derived from Java.
“Different languages have different personalities,” he said. “The personality on the Java side is brilliant but schizophrenic.”
Moreover, Tate questioned whether the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) would be able to adequately support scripting languages in a way that would help developers who need simple, lightweight solutions. However, Suns Gosling has long maintained that Sun welcomes other languages atop the JVM.
In addition, Tim Bray, director of Web technologies at Sun, in a blog post last month said: “So theres potentially a big performance boost to be had in bringing at least some dynamic-language apps on board the Java platform.
“The first thing we have to do is to stop mixing up the Java Language and the Java Platform, and make it clear to the world that other languages—in particular dynamic languages—work fine on the platform, and that theres nothing wrong with using them.”
Meanwhile, at the conference, Terracottas Zilka said he disagreed with Tate. “I think Java is not going to be a Cobol; its not going to be a dinosaur. The JVM will have to change. There is a gap but it will be filled. I think Java will innovate fast enough.”
Added Marinescu: “I agree with Ari. Ruby is a symptom, not a solution. I think theres a strong need for whatever the Web platform is to integrate with Java.”
Marinescu said the non-Java Ruby on Rails framework, which enables developers to write Web applications quickly and easily, “taught us a lesson, and its our turn [the Java community] to do it our way.”
Bruce Snyder, who said he “grew up on scripting languages,” said “Ruby is very useful for lower-end applications that need to turn out fast, but there are enterprise features that are lacking. Were going to see an ever-increasing trend from scripting languages because they are easier. The influence of scripting on Java is positive.”
Indeed, in his blog post defending his position, Gosling noted the need to “worry about scale, evolution and testing.”
Cameron Purdy said: “Java as an application language is like C++ was as an application language—its pretty pathetic. Java is a systems language, just like C++.”
Tate quickly added: “Java is a language. Languages have a limited life of leadership—10 years, maybe 15.”
Meanwhile, Rod Johnson said any change in direction for Java would require a change in thinking from Sun.
“The emphasis should be on a rich domain model, then move up to the service or application layer, then the Web layer,” he said. “Nothing is mature there, but were not going to be writing the Web tier in Java in three years.
Johnson said that “Java will be around for many, many years.” He also said he has not seen a lot of uptake for integrating scripting languages with Spring.
“Look at the demand layer, look at the service layer—theyre not broken; but if you look at the Web layer, its broken,” Johnson said. “One potentially scary model is the people who will fix this will be Microsoft because they are so well-positioned” to do it, he added.
The panel also launched into a discussion on open-source software. But lines seemed to be drawn by those supporting commercial software and those supporting open-source models.
“Open source is an expanding ripple; its always going to be an expanding ripple, so what we see with open source is it is an ever-increasing thing,” Purdy said. “Anything we take for granted is going to be covered by open source sooner or later. If commercial companies cant innovate fast enough to outrun it, it will cut into the funding for commercial R&D. But if we keep ahead well be able to attract the best engineers and entrepreneurs. If we cant enable people to get rich we wont be able to attract the best and the brightest.”
Johnson, whose Interface21 business model is based on supporting the open-source Spring framework immediately responded.
“There is a fallacy,” he said. “Open source is not free; its open, its not necessarily free. There is nothing we do at Interface21 that we dont think is the best thing in its space. We definitely are going to see that open-source software does make people rich,” he added, noting that his company had attracted high-quality talent from the likes of IBM.
Purdy replied that he was not talking abut attracting people already in the business but from the younger generation who might go into biotech, “or go into something useless like law.”
But Johnson expanded on his position.
“I disagree with people who believe the role of open source is to take the place of commercial software,” he said. “Theres no mission to rid the world of commercial software.”
Marinescu said he believes open-source is “making software cheaper. It lowers the barrier to entry and that means more jobs for developers.”
Ultimately, Snyder said that although licensed software is not going away, “the idea of software that costs an astronomical amount is being driven out.”
Meanwhile, Snyder said he sees the world of SOA (service-oriented architecture) and Web 2.0 meeting, and that Java will still be needed “to play a role in that meeting point.”
However, “we have EJB [Enterprise JavaBeans], JAX-WS [Java API for XML Web Services] and on and on, and we need a metamodel to develop services in a lighter-weight way,” he said. “Id like to see us not have to write EJBs.”
Johnsons Spring framework assumes some of the role that the EJB 3.0 specification has been targeted at but provides a lighter-weight solution.
“I think EJB 3 is dead, and Rod killed it,” said Tate.
However, Johnson credited EJB 3.0 for its persistence model, which won out over competing models.
“The persistence model will be used,” Johnson said. And “I think its good the official model of enterprise Java embraced POJOs,” he said. “Personally I find it pretty hard to be excited about it. Its been around for three years. The injection capabilities are not much. I dont think itll get mainstream pickup.”
Marinescu added that at TheServerSide conference two years ago the EJB 3 specification was coming out. “In open source I never heard of a couple of groups getting together and agreeing on a standard,” he said. “With open source its let the best man win.”
However, he said, “I think standards will matter in large corporations where stability matters more than innovation.”
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