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Java at 20: The programming juggernaut rolls on

Paul Krill | May 19, 2015
What began as an experiment in consumer electronics in the early 1990s celebrates its 20th anniversary as a staple of enterprise computing this week. Java has become a dominant platform, able to run wherever the Java Virtual Machine is supported, forging ahead despite the rise of rival languages and recent tribulations with security.

Over the years, Java has had to withstand the rise of languages ranging from JavaScript to PHP, Ruby, F#, Google Go, and even languages running on the JVM, including Groovy and Scala. In fact, as many see it, the JVM is key to Java's ongoing relevance.

"The biggest success of Java is the platform, the JVM itself," Gupta says. "It is very robust and supports a wide variety of mainstream languages, from Java, Groovy, Ruby, Scala, Clojure, Python, and many others. All these compile to byte code and run on the JVM."

Rather than sit still, Java has continued to evolve, making accommodations for functional programming in Java 8, released last year, and modularity, due in Java 9 in 2016.

"[Modularity and Java 9 are] going to be a big deal for Java technically and one that the entire ecosystem has been waiting for a long time to have," says Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, which originally arose out of an IBM effort to provide Java tooling. "In addition to that, I see Java becoming more and more important as a platform for cloud infrastructure and in the Internet of things."

A lot rides on Java

Over the years, a multitude of critical technologies and businesses have piggybacked on Java. Perhaps none is more critical these days than the Google Android mobile platform, which has leveraged Java via the Dalvik VM and even led to a lawsuit filed by Oracle alleging copyright and patent infringement. Android gives developers with Java skills an outlet in the burgeoning field of mobile application development.

"Java is critical to Eclipse and its community. The vast majority of our 270-plus projects are implemented in Java, including most of our tool, runtime, and IoT technologies," says Eclipse Foundation's Milinkovich.

Other technologies banking on Java have included application servers from BEA Systems and JBoss (acquired respectively by Oracle and Red Hat) and the JetBrains IntelliJ Idea IDE.

"IntelliJ IDE or, more concretely, Renamer was born out of a personal need of the original founders, while working with code, which happened to be Java," Hadi Hariri, developer advocacy lead at JetBrains, says. "In that regard, most likely yes, Java was fundamental."

The open source Spring Framework also has been successful riding the Java wave, competing with Java Enterprise Edition.

Java's trials and tribulations

Java has not been without some serious bumps in the road. A multitude of security flaws have emerged in recent years, leading to calls for quarantining Java and grumblings that client-side Java has become an outdated technology and a malicious hacker's best friend. Oracle, however, has responded with efforts to control its security issues and believes Java's security situation is getting better.


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