Java faces tough climb to catch up to .Net

By the time Java 8 comes out, it'll be another two to five years behind .Net -- and Microsoft's coordinated front

A couple of weeks ago, I detailed the major features we can look forward to in Java 8. What I didn't say was that .Net has most if not all of those Java 8 features, as well as many other features deferred to Java 9. I'm not a big fan of adding everything but the kitchen sink to the Java language. However, I think the Java platform (as opposed to the language) should evolve to support these features. I also think .Net is a great technology, and C# and the .Net platform accomplished in many ways what they set out to do, which was to become Java 3. My biggest misgiving is that I've never liked Microsoft's operating system, and I loathe bugs I can't -- in theory -- fix.

A tale of two platforms
You could make the claim that with a smaller install base and a greater willingness to rip the rug out from under developers, Microsoft can afford to move more quickly. Some of that is fair. I remember in the '90s and early 2000s, Microsoft decided we needed to change database APIs almost weekly from ODBC, RDO, ADO, to OLEDB and so on. Yet with .Net, Microsoft reached a kind of critical mass, and the faster progress has continued.

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But how did Java fall so far behind? The early days of Java were fast paced. From Java 1.0.2 to Java 1.1, we saw radical (and often incompatible) changes in only one year. Going from 1.1 to 1.2 took 1.5 years, and version 1.22 -- a more important release than its number suggests -- arrived a mere 7 months later. Just 10 months after came the pivotal release of Java 1.3; this was the first release with a garbage collector that had the server side in mind.

Java 1.4, which brought us NIO and regexp, dropped in less than two years later. Java 1.4.2, which brought us garbage collectors for multicore environments (though not very stable ones), came out another year on. Yes, Java 1.5 made parallel and concurrent GC ready for production, and it added important concurrent and NIO features, but it took one more year.

Overall a good performance release, Java 1.6 made locking cheaper, but it was nowhere near as substantial as 1.5, and it required a two-year wait. Java 1.7 was the first major change to the underlying VM technology (the G1 collector) since 1.4.2, and it gave us invokedynamic to better connect other languages on the JVM. However, as the major releases drifted from one to two to nearly five years apart, the pace was clearly slowing.

Sample features in Java and .Net and their release dates

Java feature.Net or C# featureJava version / release date.Net or C# version / release date
java.util.concurrentFuture / ForkJoinPool / java.util.streamTask Parallel LibraryJava 5 / Sept. 30, 2004
Java 7 / July 28, 2011
Java 8 / April 2014?
.Net 4.0 / April 12, 2010
Lambda expressionsLambda expressionsJava 8 / April 2014?.Net 3.5 / Nov. 19, 2007
Strings in switch statementsC# switchJava 7 / July 28, 2011.Net 1.1 / April 24, 2003
GenericsGenericsJava 5 / Sept. 30, 2004.Net 2.0 / Nov. 7, 2005
NIOAsynchronous I/OJava 1.4 / Feb. 6, 2002.Net 2.0 / Nov. 7, 2005
JigsawAssemblies and application domainsJava 9 / ?.Net 1.1 / April 3, 2003 (subsequent incremental improvements)
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