Oh, ho, ho it’s magic

Java: The long journey

Lucy Carey

Brian Goetz rallies army of “nine million” Java wizards at JAX 2014 keynote, earmarking arrays and Value Types as burning issues.

Aptly enough for a
conference centred on the Java universe, as well as the community
and the plethora of technologies that operate around it, JAX 2014
kicked off with a comprehensive walk through the history of the
platform, led by Java Language Architect Brian Goetz.

Back in 1995 when Java first came to life,
Fortran and C were the undisputed language giants. The youthful
Java differentiated itself as a “blue collar” language, as opposed
to these “ivory tower” behemoths.

The tactic proved successful, and steadily, a
blend of both ‘risky’ and conservative features found their way
into the language during this era. Things like garbage collection
and JIT, which though theoretically useful, had yet to be properly
implemented in the real world. James Gosling noted wryly that,
whilst these were things customers were crying out for, they were
also features that made them fearful.

Regardless, Java has gone on to become a force
to be reckoned with, with Goetz proudly declaring that one of the
best things about his job is having “nine million wizards” working
with him for the continued betterment of the language.

As of 2014, along with a veritable nation of
users (roughly analogous to Sweden in terms of population and GDP,
as Goetz noted), there are about three billion units running Java.
But whilst this represents an incredible testament to the strength
of the platform, it’s also a poignant daily reminder to him and his
team of the huge weight of responsibility that they

Factors such as compatibility, security (as
users will be well aware), as well the necessity of consistently
generating productive code are at the forefront of these concerns.
There’s also the fact that Java doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and now
more than ever, there’s a need to respond to changes in the markets
as they happen. Adapting to issues such as hardware shifts and
demographic fluctuations are all a part and parcel of the
considerable challenges the team face.

Goetz then moved on to looking at Java 8, which
put readability into the core of its design. This makes sense when
you think that, in the most critical moments of a developer’s
workflow (such as looking for a bug or similar gremlin in the
system) nothing is more frustrating than incomprehensible code.
This undermines productivity, and ultimately, the success of the

It was this emphasis on
developer productivity that led to the introduction of
features such as lambas, method references, and the
java.util-stream package. Although lambdas have brought an aspect
of functional programming to Java, Goetz joked that the “F word”
remained a taboo in Oracle Towers.

To close, Goetz laid out the future plans for
Java. Although Java 8 was widely lauded as a huge leap forward for
the language, there’s still work to be done. Pain points with
things such as arrays continue to irk users, although there was no
mention of the big bad modularity issues.

Along with solving these problems, Goetz revealed that the
next big goal on the agenda is Value Types. Although there are
issues to solve, the pressure on the team to fix them is ample
proof of the immense energy bubbling within the Javasphere. From a
grim prognosis in its last days at Sun to the excitement around
Java 8 five years on, the renaissance is well underway – even if
the masterpiece remains to be completed.

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