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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.

But not everyone has been happy with Oracle's stewardship of Java over the past five years, as the company has taken a beating for supposed missteps in handling Java and been criticized for stagnation and including "crapware" in the Java installer. James Gosling, considered the founder of Java, left Oracle not long after the Sun acquisition but has since given Oracle's handling of Java a thumbs-up.

The omission on Apple's wildly successful iOS devices was another big setback for Java and Java developers alike. But thanks to ingenuity in the Java community, third-party tools vendors have come forward with ways of enabling Java developers to use their skills to build apps for iPads and iPhones.

Some see Java's overall position on mobile as a black mark, despite the fact that Android leveraged Java and Java Micro Edition has been around for years for putting Java on embedded devices.

"Java missed the mobile revolution big time, and this market is now dominated by iOS/Swift and Android/Dalvik," Gupta says. "Java can be made to work on these devices, but Web-scale adoption cannot happen until it's OEMed on the device itself."

But Java's biggest hurdle for the years ahead may be the rise of JavaScript.

JavaScript founder Brendan Eich recently posed the notion that JavaScript could deliver on what Java was intended to be: a virtual machine of sorts, embedded everywhere, for the targeting of code and support of multiple languages.

JavaScript has even made inroads on Java's main territory, the server, thanks to the advent of Node.js. PayPal and Netflix are among two key future-leaning companies that have cozied up to Node.js at Java's expense.

The Java juggernaut is here to stay

Despite all the bumps in the road, proponents see a long shelf life for Java at the center of computing.

"It will still be a core part of infrastructure [in five to 10 years] and all over the systems of record that firms use to run their businesses, but I think we'll see less and less on the client side, especially in browsers given the changes Microsoft and Google are making to their browsers, and the proliferation of mobile devices," Forrester's Hammond says.

But where Java may prove challenged in the years ahead is in the rising realm of microservices and scale-out architectures.

"I'll be watching Java 9 very closely to see how the modularization of core Java libraries works out," Hammond says. "We see many devs using smaller runtimes like Node to power their new, microservices-based architectures, and a move toward stateless, scale-out architectures. Java — and .Net for that matter — need to prove how well they will work in this world."


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