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Special Report: State of the Java Art

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Speaking of Programming Languages
Experts at the 2006 Java Technology Roundtable deliberate over Java and other language options for the Java platform
Moderated by Simon Phipps

June 20, 2006

Mike Milinkovich, Eclipse Foundation: "Let's face it, Java is the COBOL of our generation."
Larry Cable, BEA: "Take your glasses off. Them's fighting words, mister."

Though JavaOne and concurrent ancillary events like the Java Technology Roundtable are primarily all about everything that is Java, the Java programming language is clearly not the only kid on the block. Languages like BeanShell, Groovy, PHP, Python, Ruby, and others are making tremendous headway on the Java platform, and the subject of whether or not they constitute a threat to the Java language was discussed at some length by the panel of industry thought leaders at the 2006 Java Technology Roundtable to kick off the second hour of the event.

Java, the Language
Simon Phipps: Welcome back after the break. Just as the conversation was getting exciting there, I pushed you all apart so you couldn't engage in barbaric, hand-to-hand combat. Some of the discussion there was beginning to veer in the direction of programming languages. I'm interested to know whether Java is it. We've talked about the second wave of the Java platform. Is the second wave of the Java platform going to be programmed in Java? Is Java doomed and about to be replaced by something that is more appropriate? Is there a place where other programming languages are going to run on the Java platform, and does anyone care in an era of drag, drop, and deploy? So what do you think?

Tim Bray: I want to go back to Smalltalk.

Phipps: So does Mike.

Bray: Smalltalk is coming back, you know. C-side framework is in all sorts of deployments. We had a really interesting session at JavaOne yesterday. We had three 10-minute dissertations. One was from a company [name mispronounced] that had this thing [that] had PHP passed [as] bytecodes and runs faster than native PHP on the JVM.

Frank Cohen: Querzo.


Bray: Quercus, q-u-e-r-c-u-s, right? Then there was the JRuby guys who have got Rails applications running on the JVM now, and they also had part of an interactive Ruby shell and typed Swing stuff into it and got a thing with a button to pop up and so on. Third one was a presentation from Phobos, which is an internal Sun gunk works, which is doing, brace yourselves, server-side JavaScript on the JVM, and it's building Ajax applications for all the code on both sides in the same language. Once you get over the initial shock, it looks kind of seductive. So without offering any opinions, I offer that by way of, sort of, evidence relevant to Simon's questions.

Phipps: Larry, you're itching to say something.

Larry Cable: I'm itching to say something. I think the greatest thing since sliced bread for the budding language designers of the world is the Java Virtual Machine, because basically we've taken all of the boring parts of building and developing new programming languages out of their hands and given them a platform in which they can build languages that do whatever they can imagine and deploy it on the Java platform. They don't have to go to all of the trouble of spending three years writing a C-based interpreter, dealing with memory management, integrating with the underlying operating system functionality. They generate Java bytecode, and they're done, right? This is a great opportunity for everyone in this room to invent their own programming language.

Phipps: But a Web page I've been linking to ever since I've been able to link Web pages is Robert Tolksdorf's "Programming Languages for the VM" Web page. There's been 200 programming languages that run on the Java VM since time immemorial, to most of the current generation anyway, and yet no one uses any of them. Why is it going to be any different this time around?

Cable: I think it's going to change because vendors like BEA… Graham Hamilton stood up yesterday and basically drew a diagram on the board that says he wants to go out and embrace new developer communities, and I think that's going to be the driving force as we want JavaScript on the server side, we want PHP on the server side, dot, dot, dot.

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