Java facing pressures from dynamic languages

Conference panelists cite need for improvements, also discuss open source issues

LAS VEGAS -- Java faces encroachment from dynamic languages such as Ruby in the Web application tier, but Java can be improved and JVM functionality can be extended to dynamic languages, said panelists at TheServerSide Java Symposium on Saturday.

Serving on a panel session titled, "The Future of Enterprise Java," industry dignitaries cited Java's shortcomings in the low end, Web front-end tier and also questioned the viability of the EJB object persistence technology. Enhanced development in the Web tier is critical for the Web 2.0 concept, in which the Web and the browser become more of an applications platform, panelists agreed.

"I do think that Java is in trouble on the low end," said panelist Bruce Tate, an independent consultant focusing on lightweight development in Java and Ruby.

"Ruby on Rails is quick and clean and that's the reason it's taking off," Tate said. He expressed hope for simplification of Java. "That’s a gaping hole in Java right now," Tate said. On the Ruby side, Tate said he is following the JRuby project, which purports to build a Ruby interpreter based on Java. 

Tate suggested opening up the JVM to dynamic languages such as Ruby. "We can run dynamic languages that are more productive" by doing this, he said. Enterprise Java, Tate said, is in good shape.

Panelist Ari Zilka, president and CEO of Terracotta, said changes are needed in the Java Virtual Machine to accommodate lower-end applications. "There is a current gap at the low end for Java, but I think it will be filled by the community, by the people sitting here," Zilka said, referring to conference attendees.

Concurring about the prospect of innovation in Java, panelist Floyd Marinescu, who founded TheServerSide community, expressed optimism about both Ruby and Java.

"I think [Ruby on Rails] has a lot of promise," he said. "Something will come up in the Java community to do it our way."

"I'm astounded at how popular Ruby has become," said panelist Bruce Snyder, a founding member of the Apache Geronimo project. Ruby is useful for lower end applications, he said. "There's still a large gap where you're going to need enterprise-level features and that's still missing," Snyder said.

Tate, however, responded that Java was immature when it first came out, too. "I think there is room for coexistence, but we'll see inward pressure from scripting languages because they are simple," Tate said. The influence on Java from scripting languages will be positive, he added.

Marinescu said J2EE is too complex for Web development, but Rails is not the ultimate solution. He suggested integration between these technologies. Marinescu also cited the growing importance of Web 2.0, with the Internet moving from a publishing platform to an application platform.

Snyder cited a need for easier development in the wake of Web 2.0. "Development has to become easier," by unifying SOA and Web 2.0, Snyder said.

Panelists, however, were not sold on EJB technology.

"Hopefully, we'll see a new breed come along for developing lighter-weight applications and [using] Web 2.0," Snyder said.

Panelist Rod Johnson, founder of the Spring Framework, expressed disappointment with the entire Web tier itself. "It's completely broken," and uses a dumb universal client that does only HTML and lacks a rich browser experience, he said.

"One potentially scary prospect is the people who actually fix this are Microsoft. They're very [well-positioned] to do so," Johnson said.

Panelists also became sidetracked for a time with a discussion on what open source means for the commercial software industry.

"The number of things that we count as free today that used to cost money [such as TCP/IP] are quite significant," said panelist Cameron Purdy, president of Tangosol. If commercial companies cannot innovate fast enough, pressures from open source development will reduce revenues, including R&D revenues, Purdy said.

"If we can’t find ways for people to get rich [in software development], we're not going to attract the best and brightest to the industry," Purdy said.

Johnson disagreed with notion of equating "open source" with "free." Enterprises use open source because it does the job, he said. Money is being made off of providing services related to open source software, according to Johnson. "I think we definitely are going to see that open source does make people rich," Johnson said.

Marinescu said open source software frees up developers to build value-added innovative applications. "That means more jobs for you guys," he told the audience.

Also during the discussion, Johnson touted AOP (aspect-oriented programming). "AOP is really going to change the shape of the application server market and change the definition," he said.

Snyder cited a need for tools to enable orchestration of services. "The tools are what's lagging behind. Nobody wants to sit down and write (BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] for Web Services) by hand," he said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.