BEAs Bosworth: The World Needs Simpler Java

The BEA chief gets candid about his plans for XML at BEA, competing with Microsoft, BEA's impact on making Java development easier and lots of other good stuff.

In a wide-ranging interview, Adam Bosworth, chief architect and senior vice president of BEA Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., talked to eWEEK senior writer Darryl K. Taft last month and got candid about his plans for XML at BEA, competing with Microsoft, BEAs impact on making Java development easier and lots of other good stuff.

eWEEK: Simplicity in tools is an issue on everybodys mind today, particularly with BEA and your Workshop product. How much of an impact do you think youve had on making Java development easier?

BOSWORTH: Well, I think weve had a huge impact on making it easier, which is to say… Im going to make a very aggressive assertion. I would argue that there were really only about 500,000 people who could effectively use J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] before Workshop. There were obviously more people who could program in Java and there were obviously more people who could use JSPs [JavaServer Pages]. What Im saying is the people who could actually make use of J2EE to develop true enterprise computing, it was the systems programmer crowd. Thats who we were selling to. And I believe we truly have made it possible for the corporate developer, the applications developer to play in that and that means theres more like 5 million people. And whats more is because of the two-way views weve let them work collaboratively with the business user. Now the effect of that is measured in different ways. We just released the product not too long ago and I dont know yet what the impact will be in terms of what everyone does. I think its interesting that other products are now starting to try and repeat what weve already shipped.

eWEEK: Like Suns [Microsystems Inc.] Project Rave?

BOSWORTH: Like Suns Rave or what have you. And thats fine. I mean its very healthy for the ecology. Im very pleased to see people now asking how do we make it easy. That to me was the big failing of J2EE. It was very powerful and actually fairly clean. Mark Hapner [Sun distinguished engineer] did a very good job designing the core pieces. And Mark is probably the biggest fan youll find for what we did at BEA. Hes the architect of J2EE at Sun.

But I think the right question to start asking, and I think we asked it, was how do we make this successful to everyone else so they dont have to think like plumbers. So I think the impact is huge. But whether or not we get every applications developer to switch to it, thats just time and effort and marketing.

eWEEK: Well, are you as optimistic as Sun seems to be, where they talk about their Rave tool, now known as the Java Studio Creator, growing the number of Java developers to 10 million?

BOSWORTH: Yes, I am. I think there are only about 10 million programmers total, just to be clear. So when you say were growing it to 10 million I think youve just spoken about pretty much every programmer. Whereas I think there are about 100 million people who I think can use complex abstract tools—meaning build really complex spreadsheets, do Visio, use Access at all. That number I think is about an order of magnitude bigger. But I do think there are roughly 10 million people who can program. Some percentage of them are scripters and theyre not likely to want to use Java as is. And for that weve been working hard on this ECMAscript for X. But a big percentage of them, given a language that hides complexity, will use that language. And lest we forget, Javas biggest motivation when it started was keep it simple and stupid—no garbage collection, it hides complexity, its a simple language, it avoids multiple inheritance, which was a great thing to do. I think its great that Java started from that basis. I think the big difference between Java and C is that in fact you can bring it right into the application developer. And as a language its not a problem. The closest thing that makes it a problem is the string handling, but I think thats ok. So Im very optimistic there are going to be 10 million people. The time frame? I have no idea. Im very bad at predicting the future in terms of time frames. Im pretty good actually at predicting the future in terms of whats going to happen, not necessarily when.

eWEEK: With Microsoft and what theyre doing with Longhorn it seems their emphasis is to try to "disempower" the browser and move back into making Windows more of the center of everything. In your talk [at the XML 2003 show] you seemed to be advocating against this. Can you explain?

BOSWORTH: So I think about this a lot. And I do have some notes about XAML in my blog. But the most … Ive punted on it. There are some reasons the browser became successful and we all started doing this… I dont know if you know this but I built the browser for Microsoft at one point. I built IE [Internet Explorer] 4 and built the DHTML and built the team that built it. And when we were doing this we didnt fully understand these points. And one of the points was people use the browser as much because it was easy to use as almost anything else. In other words Id talk to customers and say we can add to the browser all these rich gestures. We can add expanding outlines and collapsing and right click and drag over and all that—all the stuff youre used to in a GUI. And without exception the customer would tell me please dont do that, because right now anyone can use the sites we deploy and so our training and support costs are minimal because its so self-evident what to do. And if you turn it into GUI we know what happens, the training and support costs become huge. So one of the big values of the browser is its limits.