Java: Out of the spotlight, but still spry

The veteran programming language is enjoying a resurgence in big data and Android apps

Although the 18-year-old Java platform isn't the darling of young developers anymore, don't count it out, an analyst stressed this week at the Jax Conf Java conference in Santa Clara, Calif., noting that Java still has formidable support.

In a presentation about the rise, fall, and rise again of Java, analyst Stephen O'Grady of RedMonk cited Java's meteoric rise to the top of the heap of popular programming languages after it debuted in 1995. But in recent years, the platform has been beset by a number of factors: Young programmers are less likely to use the Java platform or language, the rise of rivals like JavaScript, and concerns about Oracle's stewardship. Oracle took over that role when it acquired Java founder Sun Microsystems in 2010.

Oracle has not done Java any favors with its lawsuit against Google over the Java-based Android platform (which Oracle lost) and Oracle's dispute with Apache over Java, as well as with other open source communities, O'Grady stressed. "You can combine all these things, and any one of them in and of itself isn't a big deal, but they become a bigger deal in the context of language fragmentation," O'Grady said.

Businesses today are no longer using just Java and something from Microsoft, O'Grady said: "You go around to any enterprise, they're likely to be using any one of a dozen languages." Java as a language faces far more competition than it did 10 years ago, even if some of the languages, such as Groovy and Scala, are based on the Java Virtual Machine.

But Java remains a force to be reckoned with. "When we talk to developers, there is still a tremendous amount of interest and a tremendous amount of vitality in the Java platform," O'Grady said. Java still is heavily used and has been leveraged in critical new applications like the Apache Hadoop distributed computing platform, which is synonymous with the big data movement, and the Neo4J graph database. "Again, as long as these projects are still being built on Java, I can't build a case that it's a dying platform."

There also is a robust, sustained job market for Java developers, and Android has introduced Java to "an entire new generation of developers," said O'Grady. While Java's popularity may have peaked, it remains a critical technology. "The evidence from our perspective doesn't support the claim that Java's dead," O'Grady noted. "Java's very popular indeed." O'Grady also said the impact of recent security woes affecting Java have been minimal so far, noting that other platforms also have had security issues as well.

For its part, Oracle is set to introduce Java Platform, SE (Standard Edition) 8 early in 2014, several months after it had planned. Java SE 8 will feature Lambda expressions, which help with programming for multicore processors, and therefore is a big step in modernizing the Java language, Oracle's Mike Duigou said, claiming that "Java is changing, Java is evolving, Java is improving." Lambda expressions serve as an anonymous method, a bit like inner classes but even more compact, Duigou said. Java is the last holdout on Lambdas, with other languages already supporting it.

Modular Java, based on Project Jigsaw, is due in the subsequent Java SE 9 release planned for 2016. For Java SE 9 or Java Development Kit 9 and beyond, Oracle is looking at capabilities for generic language interop, GPU programming, and cloud enhancements. Oracle will formally introduce Java EE (Enterprise) 7, featuring HTML5 accommodations, next week.

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