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Java: A dead end for enterprise application development?

Legend has it that Java got its name one day in 1995 when Sun marketing wunderkind Kim Polese was waiting in line at Starbucks. [Ed Note: We think the author just made this up.] “Java” proved superior to the language’s birth name of “Oak,” since it evoked coolness and caffeinated marathon programming sessions. Java was a step back from the domain-oriented 4GL tools of the time, but it was better than C/C++ for distributed object programming, and a ready army of talent formed around it.

Running up to the Internet boom of 2000, Java developers were a much sought-after lot – they garnered high pay, and perks such as onsite playrooms and unlimited quantity of quality coffee. These days Java is the likely choice in mid-size and larger organizations.

But there is discontent brewing. In a recent webcast Forrester Senior Analyst Mike Gualtieri outlined ways in which Java is over the hill. Java could be a dead end for business application development, he contends, because it does not reduce application development complexity and is difficult to learn.

The surfeit of Java Web application frameworks has only made things more difficult, according to Gualtieri. Hearty soul that he is, Gualtieri ventured some posts on our sister site, to draw out developer comments on his thesis. As you might expect, many Java people rejected this notion.

We have heard some of Gualtieri’s arguments across the industry before. People always seem to think, if tools were easier,  more programming could be done by end users, usually business analysts. Business rules are a special case where breakthroughs always seem near – yet, even here, the business rule engines still require plenty of infrastructure that is programmed by Java or, in some cases, C# developers. The Java community has worked in recent years to expand Java’ usability by supporting Domain Specific Languages atop the Java Virtual Machine, but it is fair to say that progress has been sparse and slow.

We have heard the Java death knell before on our very own Web site. Historically, one of most popular stories has been a 2006 interview (”Analysts see Java EE dying in an SOA world”) with then-Burton Analyst Richard Monson-Haefel.  The premise was that the Java EE platform had grown too complex to be workable for enterprise developers. Monson-Haefel was on to something, for sure. Assorted lightweight frameworks (Spring and Seam, for example) have eased the pain and modernized Java. But Forrester’s Gualtieri is right – these ‘lightweight’ frameworks also conspire to keep Java development a slow and error prone experience. Stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Mike Gualtieri.

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