This is the time of year when most people take their vacation...when productivity falls a little below the yearly average...when nothing exciting happens. Mainstream journalists call it the "silly season"...the time when they usually have to dredge up all those human interest stories about terribly dull people doing extraordinary things.
Our news world also suffers a little from this vacation syndrome, with no earth-shattering stories to keep ahead of. This year hasn't been so bad, however - thanks largely to Microsoft and the whole debacle surrounding Java and Windows XP. As my esteemed colleague Jason Briggs writes in his editorial, we've had a lot of fun reading what can only be described as propaganda surrounding the so-called demise of Java and how the world is now going to move toward C# as an alternative.
What a lot of nonsense! Don't panic. Java is safe and will continue to be a major force in software development. Incidentally, for a wee bit of fun, check out our back-page cartoon. Our editors do have a wicked sense of humor.
As you know, I'm based in Scotland and travel to New York regularly. Each time - conservative spender that I am - I look for the cheapest flight. Nine times out of 10 this is Icelandic Air, and Reykjavik airport is such a wonderful place to stop over in, breaking up the journey nicely (stick with me - my story gets better).
What I like most about using Icelandic Air is that their whole Web site is based on Java, and it gives me a warm feeling to be actively using the technology that we spend the majority of our time talking and writing about. Admittedly they're using JSP, which makes me cringe, but hey, you can't have everything.
Of late, however, the team up in Reykjavik has been having problems keeping the site up. In fact, as I write this editorial, the site is unable to accept bookings and I've had to resort to flying with Mr. Branson at Virgin. I've been in constant dialog with the team at Icelandic Air, probing to see what's going wrong, because as much as I hate JSP, I hate seeing such a high-profile site that's using Java not be available. It does nothing for Java's reputation as a whole, and it's important we don't give Mr. Gates any more excuses than he already has for criticizing Java's performance.
Icelandic Air is using a number of high-profile products to host their JSP offering - their names will remain anonymous. The problem was sourced to a start-up script that failed to load one of the servers in their server farm, rendering the whole farm useless. Fortunately, this has been fixed (so the problems I'm seeing now must be new ones!).
I've been fortunate to meet and know many powerful women in the world of computing. On the whole, getting where they are hasn't been easy. They've generally had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to prove themselves. We all know it shouldn't be this way, but that's the harsh reality of the corporate (man's?) world. In much the same way, I can't help but draw a parallel with Java proving itself in the corporate world against all the alternatives.
When problems do occur, I've seen upper management quick to fault the language and lay the blame at Java's doorstep, muttering that "we should have gone with such-and-such." Because of its high-profile marketing, Java is an easy target. And thanks to the days of the "gray-box-in-a-browser," when a site is running slow, the reason given is often Java.
We all know this is a lot of nonsense and usually just masks the real reason something is going wrong, which in the majority of cases is far removed from Java.
We as a community are entering some troubling times. Our decision to run with Java is going to be questioned again by clients and upper management. Microsoft is doing all it can to arm these computer-illiterate people with the information to fight Java, and to the unthinking it does sound pretty convincing.
Our solutions will have to work twice as hard to weather the storms we're about to encounter. We know the language doesn't need to prove itself, but the solutions we labor in will have to stand up to a severe beating from Redmond. To that end, we have to look at the bigger picture and take responsibility for more than just our "cog" in the engine.
Alan Williamson is editor-in-chief of Java Developer's Journal. In his spare time he holds the post of chief technical officer at n-ary (consulting) Ltd (www.n-ary.com), one of the first companies in the UK to specialize in Java at the server side. Rumor has it he welcomes all suggestions and comments.