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Java forever! 12 keys to Java's enduring dominance

Peter Wayner | Oct. 22, 2013
Haters and hipsters beware: This cross-platform curly-bracket relic never lost its app-dev mojo

For some inexplicable reason, Steve Jobs never embraced Java, even when the Mac was largely ignored by everyone except Adobe. Java compatibility could bring in plenty of code, but Apple always treated it as an afterthought. (Yes, iOS smartphones are smoother than my Android, so maybe Steve had a point.)

Java has also suffered many internal squabbles. IBM loved the language but was always battling Sun. Its decision to call its wonderful IDE "Eclipse" was not warmly received by those at Sun, who never figured out the business world like the folks at IBM.

Through all of this and many missteps by Java's own creators, Java still proliferated, finding a fruitful home on the server and serviceable hold on the desktop. Every technology has to swim against political currents, but in Java's case it swam harder and further, proving it is often a good choice for the job.

Key to continued Java dominance No. 2: The magic of threads
One of the strengths of Java's virtual machine has always been its ability to juggle multiple threads with ease. The JVM is optimized for large, multicore machines, and it will often handle hundreds of threads without buckling. This flexibility is what attracts other languages to come up with cross-compilers and emulators, so they can run on top of the JVM.

This power is also what attracts many of the high-traffic websites. They can write code that runs on their desktops, then use much of the multicore power available on the server.

Ruby is one of the modern competitors to Java that attracted many converts to its cleaner, more English-like syntax. Yet when Ruby lovers need high performance, they turn to JRuby, a version that emulates Ruby in Java providing much better performance under heavy loads with many threads. The Sun engineers got something right when they sweated these details.

Key to continued Java dominance No. 3: Java as first programming language
Religions, armies, and nations thrive by building loyalty when the people are young. Java is the lingua franca for Advanced Placement Computer Science, and this means it is often the first language that students learn. This sticks with them, through the good and bad. When they learn new languages, they see strengths and weaknesses relative to Java. If they become converts —many do leave the Java fold — they still base their opinions on what they learned in that first class.

Java has many advantages for teaching computer science. Some programmers hate specifying the type for the data, often calling it "belts and suspenders" programming. That may sound paranoid, but it's a great way for beginners to learn what's going on inside the computer. Asking them to spell out the type of data gets them thinking about it. Then the compiler can catch their errors when the variables don't line up correctly.


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