Java is becoming the new Cobol

2007's No. 1 most underreported tech story

The Story: Java, the oldest new programming language around, is falling out of favor with developers. When it comes to developing the increasingly common rich Internet applications, Java is losing ground to Ruby on Rails, PHP, AJAX and other cool new languages. And there are even reports that Microsoft’s .Net, of all things, is pushing Java out of the enterprise. Makes you wonder whether Sun was smart to change its stock-ticker code to JAVA last summer.

[ Slideshow: 2007's top underreported tech stories ]

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Simply put, developers are saying that Java slows them down. “There were big promises that Java would solve incompatibility problems [across platforms]. But now there are different versions and different downloads, creating complications,” says Peter Thoneny, CEO of Twiki.net, which produces a certified version of the open source Twiki wiki-platform software. “It has not gotten easier. It’s more complicated,” concurs Ofer Ronen, CEO of Sendori, which routes domain traffic to online advertisers and ad networks. Sendori has moved to Ruby on Rails. Ronen says Ruby offers pre-built structures — say, a shopping cart for an e-commerce site — that you’d have to code from the ground up using Java.

Another area of weakness is the development of mobile applications. Java’s UI capabilities and its memory footprint simply don’t measure up, says Samir Shah, CEO of software testing provider Zephyr. No wonder the mobile edition of Java has all but disappeared, and no wonder Google is creating its own version (Android).

These weaknesses are having a real effect. Late last month, Info-Tech Research Group said its survey of 1,850 businesses found .Net the choice over Java among businesses of all sizes and industries, thanks to its promotion via Visual Studio and SharePoint. Microsoft is driving uptake of the .Net platform at the expense of Java," says George Goodall, a senior research analyst at Info-Tech.

One bit of good news: developers and analysts agree that Java is alive and well for internally developed enterprise apps. “On the back end, there is still a substantial amount of infrastructure available that makes Java a very strong contender,” says Zephyr’s Shah.

The Bottom Line: Now that Java is no longer the unchallenged champ for Internet-delivered apps, it makes sense for companies to find programmers who are skilled in the new languages. If you’re a Java developer, now’s the time to invest in new skills.

Complete list of 2007 underreported stories:

1.  Java is becoming the new Cobol

2.  Sun Microsystems is back in the game

3.  Hackers take aim at Mac OS X

4.  There are some threats you can worry less about

5.  Companies may have found a way around H-1B visa limits

6.  Open source’s new commercial strategy

7.  End-to-end Ethernet finally arrives

8.  Blade servers arrive for the masses

9.  BI is dead; long live BI

10. Balance of power shifts to software buyers

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