Shahzad Bhatti Welcome to my ramblings and rants!

July 31, 2008

Love and Hate with Java

Filed under: Java — admin @ 10:46 pm

For past few years, bashing Java has been really popular though some of the criticism has merits. But in general, due to its popularity, Java has become “the man” who tries to bring everyone down. There are millions of programmers who work for the “Java the man”. I saw recent post from NYU professor, who called Java-savvy college grads to tomorrow’s pizza delivery man. I know Joel Spolsky often mentions teaching C in unversities to help understand pointers and memory management. I agree with notion of teachings multiple languages in universities so that graduates have wide breadth of understanding with differant programming paradigms. I started learning programming back in 80’s on Atari and learned BASIC. I then moved to PC and learned GW-BASIC and then learned C, FORTRAN, Assembler, COBOL, Pascal, C++ in college. I also learned Lisp, Prolog, Perl on my own. In late 80’s and early 90s, I also learned DBase III, RPG and SAS, which was called 4th generation language. Similarly, C, FOTRAN, Pascal, etc. were called third languages, assembly languages were second generation languages. I learned Java in ’95 when it came out and found it to be much easier to program than C/C++. I also learned Python, Ruby and Erlang for past few years and have been learning Haskell and Scala these days.

For most part, Java has been my primary language with some use of C++, Perl, Ruby, Python/Jython (and Erlang on my own). Though I wish I could use more Erlang but I don’t have same experience with Erlang as I have with Java. Over time, Java managed to take a lot of C/C++ share of the market. Also, Java has managed to buid large ecosystem with open source and commercial suites of libraries and frameworks. I often hear that Java is so enterprisy and popular in large companies, but truth is that Java has proven itself to be reliable language. Steve Yeggie also mentioned in his blog how Google primarily uses Java, C++, Python and Javascript.

I like the polyglot environment, where I write performance critical code in system language like Java and use Ruby/Python for high level glue code or web tier.
I find often the criticism of Java is dishonest. For example, though people raves about metaprogramming in Ruby but forget to mention all the overhead that goes with it, not to mention security holes and memory leaks issues. The truth is that none of hot languages like Python, Ruby, Erlang, Haskell provide same performance as Java, in fact Java’s hotspot compiler beats C++ in production. I am going to ignore static vs dynamic language debate, but I’ve found static languages work better with large number of developers. Again, I like these languages, but I prefer to see some balanced comparison. The real reason Java is popular is because there are tons of jobs. Here is quick comparison of jobs in Java, C++, C#, Erlang, Haskell, OCaml, Ruby, Python and Factor:

As Bruce Lee said:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

I find it, the way you can distinguish yourself is by learning more about the design and architecture of developing system and learning more about the ecosystem. It takes years to learn the ins and outs of programming language and all the tools and libraries with it. Though, I totally agree with learning a number of different languages like Haskell, Factor, Erlang, Scala, Groovy and I have been trying to learn all those for many years. However, for system language my first choice is still Java, simply because I have found it to be reliable and efficient language. As James Gosling said Java is a blue collar language. Sure it does not have closures (yet), actors, transactional memory, metaprogramming or AST/macros but it is well suited for building large applications by hundreds or thousands of programmers. I just started a large project in my division at Amazon, and sure enough I chose Java because I have been using it for over twelve years and I know it can do the job. It wasn’t simply because Java is safe choice (no one got fired for choosing IBM), but practically Java has more matured solutions for business needs. For example, my project needs to integrate with 20+ applications and is aimed at reducing manual work so it needed portal server, workflow engine, rules engine and messaging service and there are tons of options for those in Java community.

Finally, JVM is proving to be neat platform for building new languages like JRuby, Jython, Groovy, Scala, Clojure, etc. that can bring cool features and high interoperability with existing system. As Guy Steele said in his recent interview, you can’t expect one language to solve all problems.

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