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 development.

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 began.

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 developers.

“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 mark.

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