Java faces pressures from dynamic languages

Topic discuessed at ServerSide forum

Java faces encroachment from dynamic languages such as Ruby in the web application tier, but Java can be improved and Java Virtual Machine functionality can be extended to dynamic languages, according to panellists at the recent ServerSide Java Symposium.

Serving on a panel session entitled, “The Future of Enterprise Java”, industry dignitaries cited Java’s shortcomings in the low-end, web front-end tier and also questioned the viability of the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) object persistence technology. Enhanced development in the web tier is critical for the Web 2.0 concept, in which the web and the browser become more of an applications platform, panellists agreed.

“I do think that Java is in trouble at the low end,” says panellist Bruce Tate. He is an independent consultant focusing on lightweight development in Java and Ruby.

“Ruby on Rails is quick and clean and that’s the reason it’s taking off,” Tate says.

He expressed hope for simplification of Java. “That’s a gaping hole in Java right now,” Tate says. On the Ruby side, Tate says he is following the JRuby project, which purports to build a Ruby interpreter based on Java.

Tate suggested opening up the Java Virtual Machine to dynamic languages such as Ruby. “We can run dynamic languages that are more productive” by doing this, he says.

Enterprise Java, Tate said, is in good shape.

Panellist Ari Zilka, president and CEO of Terracotta, says changes are needed in the Java Virtual Machine to accommodate lower-end applications. “There is a current gap at the low end for Java, but I think it will be filled by the community, by the people sitting here,” Zilka says, referring to conference attendees.

Concurring on the subject of innovation in Java, panellist Floyd Marinescu, who founded TheServerSide community, expressed optimism about both Ruby and Java.

“I think [Ruby on Rails] has a lot of promise,” he says.

“Something will come up in the Java community to do it our way,” Marinescu says.

“I’m astounded at how popular Ruby has become,” says panellist Bruce Snyder, a founding member of the Apache Geronimo project. Ruby is useful for lower-end applications, he says. “There’s still a large gap where you’re going to need enterprise-level features and that’s still missing.”

Tate, however, responded that Java was immature when it first came out, too. “I think there is room for coexistence, but we’ll see inward pressure from scripting languages because they are simple,” Tate says. The influence on Java from scripting languages will be positive, he believes.

Marinescu says J2EE is too complex for web development, but that Rails is not the ultimate solution. He suggests integration between the technologies. He also cited the growing importance of Web 2.0, with the internet moving away from a publishing platform and becoming an application platform.

Snyder cited a need for easier development in the wake of Web 2.0. “Development has to become easier,” by unifying SOA and Web 2.0, Snyder says.

The panellists were not sold on EJB technology, though.

“Hopefully, we’ll see a new breed come along for developing lighter-weight applications and [using] Web 2.0,” says Snyder.

Panellist Rod Johnson, founder of the Spring Framework, expressed disappointment with the entire web tier itself. “It’s completely broken,” and uses a dumb universal client that only does HTML and lacks a rich browser experience, he says.

“One potentially scary prospect is the people who actually fix this are Microsoft. They’re very [well-positioned] to do so,” Johnson says.

Panellists were also sidetracked for a time by a discussion on what open source means for the commercial software industry.

“The number of things that we count as free today that used to cost money [such as TCP/IP] are quite significant,” says panellist Cameron Purdy, president of Tangosol.

If commercial companies cannot innovate fast enough, pressures from open source development will reduce revenues, including for research and development, Purdy says.

“If we can’t find ways for people to get rich [in software development], we’re not going to attract the best and brightest to the industry,” Purdy says.

Johnson disagreed with equating open source with free. Enterprises use open source because it does the job, he says. Money is being made from providing services related to open source software, according to Johnson. “I think we are definitely going to see that open source does make people rich,” Johnson says.

Marinescu says open source software frees up developers to build value-added innovative applications. “That means more jobs for you guys,” he told the audience.

Also, during the discussion, Johnson touted aspect-oriented programming. “AOP is really going to change the shape of the application server market and change the definition,” he says.

Snyder cited a need for tools to enable orchestration of services. “The tools are what’s lagging behind. Nobody wants to sit down and write BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] by hand,” he says.

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