Analysts split on Java's future

One analyst says Java will fade in importance and pervasiveness in the enterprise, but others believe the Web is its ticket to future.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Java will ride the Web app wave into the future, say two Ovum analysts. However, a Hydrasight analyst thinks Java will diminish in importance and enterprise pervasiveness eventually.

With the departure of Java co-creator James Gosling, after Oracle's acquisition of Sun and Java reportedly slipping in popularity, there is real concern from industry watchers that the programming language is starting to look dated and unable to attract new talent.

According to the Tiobe programming language popularity index released last month, Java is on a "long-term downward trend" and has slipped from its number one spot last year to number two this year. This has pushed C from the number two spot up to the top rank.

Hydrasight research director, John Brand, said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia that Java is facing competition from more efficient platforms which make development cheaper and easier.

"Java has become marginalized already because of the economics of programming and development," said Brand. He added that enterprise software vendors, which have delivered Java-based products, haven't been able to demonstrate more value compared with those delivering products on languages such as .Net, Cold Fusion or PHP, for example.

Sun has over the years tried to make Java development simpler, releasing tools to cut down the amount of code written.

Additionally, Brand said testing has proved to be a great overhead for developers who have had to "write once, test everywhere" on Java's popularly-held tagline of "write once, run everywhere".

Software vendors themselves have driven the trend away from Java as a result, he said.

Web and mobile future of Java
However, Michael Azoff and Tony Baer, Ovum principal analysts, see the Web and mobile space as Java's future assurance.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, Baer said: "Java will remain the de facto standard platform for Web development of enterprise applications." He noted, though, that Java will face challenges from the likes of Web frameworks such as Ruby on Rails.

On Java's ability to attract new developers, Baer said the language, having been around for years, has seen developers gravitating toward "less mature" languages and scripting languages such as PHP and Ruby in efforts to ascend their careers and get noticed.

Nonetheless, the cloud and mobile arenas provide new expansion paths for Java. Azoff said that enterprises looking to deploy Web apps will turn to Java to develop the apps, whether these are hosted inhouse or in public clouds.

With the assurance of Oracle's investment in the technology, he added that Java provides an alternative to enterprises looking away from Microsoft .Net on the cloud, or Apple's platform in the mobile space.

Salesforce.com and VMware announced two weeks ago a service called VMforce that will put Java applications in the cloud. Google's App Engine platform also supports Java.

These compete with other cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, which runs applications coded in Microsoft's own technology .Net and the open source PHP language.

But Baer said with Java now in Oracle's hands, the software giant must not "suffocate" the Java community with restrictions, as Sun had done before.

Sun's licensing policies with Java in the past had drawn the ire of developer communities. IBM and HP called for more vendor-neutral processes back in 2000, while in 2007, the Apache Software Foundation wrote an open letter to Sun regarding open source licensing.

Hydrasight's Brand said that Java, like machine code, will diminish in importance and pervasiveness as computing evolves. "Java [will] be seen as the most appropriate option where it is clearly the right tool for the job. Otherwise, much higher-level, process-oriented 'languages' are likely to dominate, especially in more mature organizations," he added.

He noted additionally that a big reason vendors continue to support Java is to provide customers with choice.

"Implementing cloud computing is not necessarily dependent on Java as an underlying platform. These are simply choices that vendors and customers will make based on their beliefs, or a legacy that is difficult to shake," said Brand.

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