Why Not Just Fix Java?

You might argue that we need to fix Java, not scrap it. That would be easy if you could pinpoint the problems. If you thought the problems were in the language itself, you could just do some major surgery and offer a new version of Java. That's easier said than done. Sun has been very careful to preserve backward compatibility at all costs. If you look at the lack of commercial acceptance for Visual Basic .NET, it's easier to respect Sun's point of view. Microsoft made some radical changes to the language and libraries , and they weren't well received. Regardless of whether it's a good idea, Sun will continue to be conservative to protect customers.

Still, even if you look at relatively aggressive changes, most experts that I interviewed tend to think Sun is even now moving in the wrong direction. Instead of making Java more nimble and dynamic at the foundation, the changes, for the most part, amount to additional type safetysyntactic sugar hacks built into the syntax rather than the JVM that often lead to inconsistent behavior.

Libraries and Community

It's clear that libraries are problems, too. Sun has launched several belated simplification movements. So, if it's Java's libraries that are broken, and not the language itself, couldn't we just scrap a few libraries and start over on a more simplified foundation? That's the approach we suggested in Better, Faster, Lighter Java. For Java's most important and basic job, a web-based user interface on a relational database, I don't think Java's frameworks are moving in a healthy direction at all. Most frameworks are moving to add more compelling features rapidly, instead of simplifying what's already out there.

One bad library might point to a few local mistakes. Java's problems are more global. They target very complex problems at the expense of the easy problems that most Java developers need to solve. The problem is clear. The Java leadership is abandoning its base willingly and rapidly. It's a cultural problem, inherent in the Java community, vendors, programmers, and leadership. Java has become strictly a language for hard-core enterprise development of large-scale problems.


Over the next five years or so, the question in play will be this: are the Java community and expansive code library base worth sacrificing the productivity that other alternatives will bring to bear? So far, the answer has been a resounding "Yes." But we're nearing a point of no return. Java needs radical changes if it wants to continue to be all things to all people, but the community, culture, and leadership behind Java have never produced the kind of structural, sweeping changes that we need. Sun has always treated Java conservatively. The community process has always built the kind of software you'd imagine a community process would build: bloated compromises that please no one in the end. The Java community has always tolerated too much architecture, too much XML, and too many layers.

I make the case that a clean, dynamic language could gain footing easily in the gap between Visual Basic and enterprise Java. Once entrenched, it could take the same path Java did, into the enterprise. After all, the lion's share of Java development, even in the enterprise, is not full of distributed transaction and backbreaking loads. Five years ago, most developers that I talked to on a regular basis wanted a good way to baby-sit a big, fat relational database with a web-based user interface. Five years later, they want the same thing.

So far, I've shown you how Java is drifting away from its base. In the next chapter, you'll see the rules of the game for the next major successful language. In next tutorials, I'll explore what alternative languages have to offer, and whether that will be enough to take you beyond Java.