Are Java and .Net becoming legacy platforms?

Frustrated by infighting and unclear strategy, even enterprise developers may soon start looking elsewhere

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A new Java Specification Request (JSR) approved earlier this month, dubbed "JCP.next," proposes sweeping changes to the JCP that proponents hope will improve the situation. In the meantime, however, enterprise Java developers have little choice but to watch and wait, their fates seemingly hanging in the balance between warring IT titans.

Uncertainty shrouds .Net
You'd think Microsoft shops would have it a lot easier. While the Java ecosystem resembles something like the United Nations -- albeit with Oracle permanently at the head of the table -- Microsoft's .Net platform is more of a monarchy.

The trouble is, as an absolute monarch, Microsoft doesn't inspire much faith. From the very beginning, the .Net platform was widely perceived as a Java rip-off. For many developers that was fine, however, since it meant Microsoft was able to build on Java's strengths and address its weaknesses in ways the JCP seemed unwilling to do. Unfortunately, Microsoft seems far less committed to some of .Net's advantages than some developers would like.

For example, early on, Microsoft touted .Net's Common Language Runtime, which made it possible for developers to code .Net applications in a variety of different languages. For a time, Microsoft even funded development of IronPython and IronRuby, versions of two popular scripting languages that ran on the CLR. But Microsoft has since backed away from these dynamic languages to focus on C# and Visual Basic, leaving IronPython and IronRuby developers in a lurch.

Now some Microsoft shops are wondering whether other .Net technologies might soon meet the same fate. For several years, Microsoft has been encouraging developers to build UIs using Silverlight, a proprietary Microsoft technology for constructing rich Internet applications. The great thing about Silverlight, we're told, is that because Silverlight's APIs are based on Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows developers can use their existing skills to create apps for the Web and mobile devices.

Yet for months now we've heard rumblings that Microsoft may be de-emphasizing Silverlight in favor of Web standards such as HTML5 and JavaScript. Microsoft reps denied such a move in November. However, just this month, developers were treated to a demo of Windows 8 UI technologies, and sure enough, again the buzz was all about HTML5 and JavaScript, with no mention of Silverlight. How can enterprise developers be expected to view .Net as a strategic platform if Microsoft can't even get its own strategy straight?

The market keeps changing even if platforms don't
Some will say, "So what?" Even if the futures of Java and .Net are unclear, both platforms still provide what enterprise developers really want most, which is consistency. Just stick with what works, don't worry about the future stuff, and everything will be just fine.

But the problem with this manner of thinking is that "what works" for today's paradigm might not be what works for tomorrow's computing market. If I'm right, and application development is heading toward a model based on clients plus the cloud, then neither the status quo of today's enterprise platforms nor their lumbering pace will serve enterprise developers for long.

There are plenty of alternatives out there. Perhaps they only appeal to hackers for now, but today's hackers have a funny way of becoming tomorrow's enterprise developers. Microsoft and Oracle just better hope they don't walk away from .Net and Java before they get there.

This article, "Are Java and .Net becoming legacy platforms?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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