Live from JAXConf 2013

Reports of Java’s death greatly exaggerated, says RedMonk’s O’Grady

Chris Mayer

The co-founder of the developer analyst firm explored the history of the language and platform in ‘The Rise and Fall and Rise of Java’

Tuesday’s second keynote was provided by RedMonk
co-founder (and life-long Boston Red Sox fan) Stephen O’Grady, who
was at JAXConf to dissuade anyone who believes Java is dead. Just
yet anyway.

In his keynote, The Rise and Fall and Rise of
Java, O’Grady took us on a whistle-stop tour of Java’s history,
noting key events that have both benefited and knocked Java in its
near 20-year history.

As many in the room were fairly familiar with
the early days, O’Grady glossed over this part saying “I don’t need
to describe it to you as many of you have lived it.” Using TIOBE
rankings, O’Grady detailed Java’s early rise, becoming the most
popular language (based on search engines) in 2006, after
languishing down in 5th in 1995.

But then came Java’s first decline, or as
O’Grady put it “the fall came gradually… we didn’t feel it at the
time. It wasn’t subtle enough or intrusive enough. It took people
by surprise.” In turn, so came the bad press claiming Java is the
new COBOL and that it is “a dead end” for enterprise

Java commits over the past decade on Stack
Overflow, when measured against C/C++ look quite steady, but when
measured up to JavaScript, it’s a completely different proposition.
Similarly when looking at the popularity of projects on Ohloh,
JavaScript is coming out on top (and on the rise), according to
O’Grady’s figures.

O’Grady showed there is a statistically
significant, yet weak, relationship between Java and age, meaning
the older you are, the more likely you are to use the language.
Therefore, not enough younger people aren’t using the platform to
keep it ticking over.

The RedMonk co-founder touched on significant
events that also played a part in Java’s decline, namely the Oracle
vs Google court case (still continuing). From RedMonk’s own data,
it was clear in 2010 that the thing Java developers were most
worried about was the squabble over Android.

O’Grady surmised that “Java the language faces
far more competition than it did a decade ago”, but believes it’s
not as clear cut as saying Java is dead in the water. Looking at
RedMonk’s Q1 2013 rankings, it’s clear that Java is still among the
top Tier 1 languages. O’Grady added that Java has never been
outside that tier, or out of the top couple, since their rankings

Taking a look at job data, O’Grady said that
there was a “robust sustained job market for Java technologies” and
that the continued discussion on Java mailing lists “challenges the
notion of decline”.

O’Grady pointed to the many burgeoning projects
in the industry who used Java as their base – Hadoop, HBase, Neo4j
and Cassandra to name but a few. Netflix, who deal with ⅓ of the
US’s streaming traffic on any given night, have 20 open source
projects coded in Java too. Finally in closing, O’Grady explained
that Android “has introduced Java to a new generation of

“The evidence simply does not support the claim
that Java is a dead end. It’s no longer as popular, but what Java
is is very popular,” O’Grady concluded. While there are plenty of
hurdles ahead, to say Java is the next COBOL is wide of the

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