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Java Viewpoint: "Java Is Still the Mainstream, But..."

Java Developers Need to Look to Their Laurels and Start Innovating Again

The other day I was talking to a coworker about learning Ruby. He said that as a Java programmer the hardest part of learning Ruby was not the syntax nor the dynamic typing. Oh, he could write perfectly correct Ruby, sans semicolons and variable declarations. His problem was that he found himself falling back into his same old Java habits. He felt like he was missing something because his Ruby code always ended up looking pretty much like what he would have written in Java.

This is not a problem that is unique to Java or Ruby or even programming languages. We all have a comfort zone of techniques and habits, our ‘happy place‘ where we feel productive and comfortable. The trouble with the happy place is that if you stay in your happy place too long you will be miserable. The world will move on and there you will be, eyes tight shut, hands over your ears, rocking slowly as you repeat, “I‘m happy, I‘m happy.“

Is Java dead? The buzz at the last software conference I attended, a conference previously full of Java developers and talk, was all about Ruby. The web is filling up with talk about the ‘R‘ word. Yesterday an old friend of mine IM‘ed me to say that he had a new job and his boss wants him to do this Rails thing and did I think it was for real.

Is Java dead? No. Java is still the mainstream. It is blessed with a high performance VM that is installed darn near everywhere. There is an army of experienced Java programmers out there. But the Java world has been in the same happy place for way too long. We in the Java world have been hanging out in the same statically typed, framework driven, XML configured lair for too many years.

We need to start thinking new thoughts:

  • The key to Java is not the language, it is the JVM. If it runs on the JVM it is Java, no matter what the source language was. Ruby has dynamic typing and maybe that is a good thing? Well the Java world has Jython and Groovy and Rhino and Beanshell and soon JRuby. Why aren‘t we making more use of these?

  • One of the most common reactions to the elegance of Rails is “Oh, we could do that in Java.” Well, let us do so with haste, but let us also ask ourselves: Why didn‘t we think of this?

  •  As Bruce Tate has pointed out many times, why does all data taste better in XML? If there is a byte in a forest not wrapped in angle brackets, does it still convey data? Could we Java folks at least think before reaching for the JAXP?

Java isn‘t dead, it‘s probably not even that sick. But the mid life crisis is here and we need to decide if we are going to buy a red convertible or get down to really dealing with our problems.

More Stories By Russ Olsen

Russ Olsen is a senior software engineer at FGM in Reston, VA. he blogs at http://jroller.com/page/rolsen.

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