Oracle's Java 15: New features aim to keep millions away from languages like Rust, Kotlin

Oracle releases programming language Java 15 to push its dream of 'write once, run everywhere'.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Oracle has released version 15 of Java, the language created 25 years ago by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems, which Oracle snapped up in 2009 for about $7.4bn to gain what it said was the "most important software Oracle has ever acquired". 

Java 15, or Oracle Java Development Kit (JDK) 15, brings the Edwards-Curve digital signature algorithm, hidden classes, and former preview features that have been finalized, including text blocks, and the Z Garbage Collector, while the sealed-classes feature arrives and pattern matching and records emerge as a second preview. 

Java has been overtaken by Python in popularity, according to developer analyst RedMonk, which rates languages based on GitHub projects and chatter among developers on Stack Overflow. 

SEE: Hiring Kit: Python developer (TechRepublic Premium)

In July, Java fell out of RedMonk's top two positions for the first time since 2012 and now resides behind JavaScript and Python in terms of popularity. 

Tiobe in September ranked Java in second position, behind C and ahead of Python. While interest in 35-year-old C++ is growing faster than any other language, Tiobe CEO Paul Jansen said Java "is in real trouble" because it saw a 3.81 percentage point decline compared with its rating a year ago.   

But Java is still hugely popular and widely used in the enterprise, according to Oracle, which notes it is used by over 69% of full-time developers worldwide.

Java 15 represents Oracle's "technical investments that drive Java innovation forward and help address the rapidly changing technology landscape", said Georges Saab, vice president of development at the Java Platform Group in Oracle. 

According to Oracle, there are still 51 billion active Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) deployed globally, with Java being used for services like analytics, data management, big data, DevOps, mobile, continuous development tools, and chatbots. As versatile as the language is, unlike Python, it's not the go-to language for data scientists and programmers building machine-learning applications.   

Oracle has released new versions of Java every six months as of Java 10, which it released in March 2018. The aim is to bring customers more innovation faster while also providing predictability and stability. 

Oracle JDK 15 will receive at least two quarterly critical security patch updates before JDK 16 arrives in March 2021. 

Sharat Chander, director of Java SE product management at Oracle, argues that the six-month release cycle is giving customers better innovation, stability and bug fixes.     

"Instead of making tens of thousands of fixes and around one hundred JDK Enhancement Proposals (JEPs) available in a large major release every few years, enhancements are delivered in smaller feature releases on a more manageable, predictable six-month schedule," explains Chander. 

"Of the 2,136 JIRA issues marked as fixed in Java 15, 1,702 were completed by people working for Oracle, while 434 were contributed by individual developers and developers working for other organizations."

It counts Arm, Amazon, IBM, Intel, NTT Data, Red Hat, SAP and Tencent among its list of notable contributors to JDK 15. Oracle also gave a special mention to Microsoft and cloud system monitoring service DataDog for fixes.

Java turned 25 on May 23 this year. Gosling and his colleagues created the language in the 1990s with the intention of helping developers write code once and run it anywhere, allowing the language and developers to adapt new technologies as they arose by using the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). 

SEE: Programming languages: Julia users most likely to defect to Python for data science

As part of Java's 25th anniversary, Oracle commissioned analyst firm Omdia to assess its six-month release strategy for Java and whether it would be enough to keep millions of Java developers away from memory-safe alternatives such as Kotlin, the language Google has endorsed for Android development, and Rust, a system programming language that was created at Mozilla.

"In Omdia's opinion, the work Oracle began a few years ago in moving to a six-month update cycle and introducing a new level of modularity, puts the vendor in good stead with its constituency of approximately 12 million developers," Oracle said in its report on Omdia's analysis

"However, Oracle and the Java programming language need an ongoing series of innovative, must-have, and 'delightful' features that make the language even more user friendly and cloud capable. These will keep existing Java developers happy while steering potential Java developers away from newer languages like Rust and Kotlin."

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