As Nat King Cole famously sang, we have to "face the music and dance..." This month's editorial is coming to you with a reader beware warning!
I've been engaged in some great debates over the last month on a variety of topics, but the one that has caught my interest is the old chestnut regarding the longevity of Java. Is it here to stay? If not, how long do we have? Quite rightly, it's being talked about and I've had the good fortune to brush shoulders with a number of big names in our industry who have given me their perspectives on the whole debate. I have my own feelings about where Java is headed and I do believe that if, as a community, we don't get our act together, we may have only five years left at the most. After talking to my counterparts, it would appear I'm being overly generous with five years.
What's happening? Well, it's our old friend C# and its relentless march toward the development community. Setting aside the old argument that due to Microsoft's dominance it may well win the day, it's interesting to look at other reasons why C# may win the battle. Let's blow away some misconceptions that you may or may not be aware of regarding this new kid.
Myth #1: C# is a Windows-only technology.
You could be excused for believing that, but did you know there's a major movement in the open source world to port the CLR (Common Language Runtime, i.e., their JVM!) to operating systems other than MS Windows? Linux, to name one. Imagine for a moment being able to run your .NET services alongside Apache on a Redhat box, seamlessly integrating into the rest of the network. This alone would be a major blow to server-side Java. It's also a subtle way for Microsoft to unofficially support the growing number of Linux seats without losing face (read www.halcyonsoft.com/news/iNET_PR.asp).
Myth #2: C# is an inferior Java clone.
This is the most dangerous one and the one you probably tell yourself in order to keep the scales tipped in Java's favor. The truth is, it's not an inferior clone; it's a different clone, with many arguing that the differences are minute to the majority of the developer community. It will be frighteningly easy for Java developers to move over to C# with no real headaches to contend with. I suspect this was always on Microsoft's mind when developing the language (read www.prism.gatech.edu/~gte855q/CsharpVsJava.html).
Myth #3: C# is for developing Web services only.
Most definitely not, and I have heard this one retorted back to me on a number of occasions. Ironically, this is the one area that could really hurt Java Ð on the client. As you know, Java has not made any significant headway in this space due mainly to its awfully slow Swing implementation. While the recent release of JDK1.4 has brought significant performance gains, it's still nowhere near the speed of its native Windows applications with respect to fast, snappy responses (although it must be said, the speed of a Swing application on a Mac OS-X does show what could be achieved). C# is the new building block for Windows applications, the next VB! And we know how many applications popped up when VB hit the market (read www.c-sharpcorner.com/WinForms.asp).
Okay, how many of you think I've abandoned all hope for Java and have gone to the dark side? I suspect some of you are questioning my loyalties at this precise moment, wondering if I'm fit to occupy my role as EIC. Well, don't panic, I'm merely being a realist and looking at it from all angles. You'd be the first ones to complain if I buried my head in the sand and just ignored the threat. We have to look at this together and come up with a strategy that will enable us to effectively take on C#. We'll be getting a lot of heat from all over and we need to be armed with the information and prepared to go back to the drawing board and reeducate the masses. Sadly, they are being led a merry dance by Pied Piper Gates.
Allow me to cite you an example of such blind ignorance and if this doesn't scare you, then I don't know what will. I was recently involved with the Scottish government, discussing technology and what have you, where naturally the topic of Microsoft was high on the agenda. Excusing the fact that these people took a certain pride in believing they knew what was going on and loved name-dropping, the phrase that caught me off guard was the following: "Java? No one is doing that now. Microsoft is no longer supporting it."
Wow! Talk about a major miscommunication. And this from someone who controls budgets for the technology sector in Scotland. Ironically, I believe he really thinks he has his finger on the pulse of technology. It's sheer ignorance like this that scares me the most. Microsoft has successfully planted and nurtured the seed in people's heads that just because it isn't supporting Java in Windows XP, Java is dead. I have to admit I was taken aback and quite flabbergasted when I heard that retort. I really didn't know where to go with that. So much background information was obviously missing that I wasn't too sure if I would come over as patronizing and whether, ultimately, they would understand.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Ever since I started writing about this topic in my editorials, I've been hearing stories from you regarding similar misconceptions and it scares me. We have a beautiful language here in Java; it has achieved industry-wide support and is pushing forward with great velocity. What can we do to support it?
You do realize we need an anthem. All great causes have an anthem. Something for us to get behind and sing!!! Suggestions gratefully received. We need a Java song!
Until next month...
Alan Williamson is editor-in-chief of Java Developer's Journal. During the day he holds the post of chief technical officer at n-ary (consulting) Ltd, 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.