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Sun's Gosling: Already Plenty of Java 'Harmony' Under the Sun : Page 2

The open source community may be looking for 'Harmony' but "Father of Java" James Gosling says enterprise Java customers would sooner go "screaming into the hills." Gosling talks to DevX about why Sun is ambivalent about Apache's Harmony, the future of the tools market, and the expectation for a language that will one day eclipse Java.




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NetBeans and the Java Tools Market
An open source project that Sun fully backs is NetBeans, the Java development framework. NetBeans has just released its 4.1 IDE, which features full support for J2EE 1.4 with tight integration with Sun's Java System Application Server 8.1 and soon-to-be-available plug-ins for the JBoss, IBM WebSphere, and BEA WebLogic app servers, as well as out-of-the-box Web services and mobile application development support. NetBeans, along with the IBM-backed, open-source Eclipse framework, represent the majority of the Java IDE market today.

Gosling sees the IDE as a gateway to Java specification functionality. He explained that the tool makes J2EE development easier and more approachable than trying to work with the raw API directly. "A lot of the detail in J2EE is about these very gnarly, large-scale problems, and most people are actually doing things that are much simpler. So J2EE sort of forces you to pay attention to things that may not be actually rising in your particular case," he said.

He added, "4.1 has been about making it so that you can build all of the different kinds of J2EE components, deploy them, and test them really easily."

The major vendors have said tools and development environments tend to be loss leaders for the rest of their platforms.

The large gains in market share for Eclipse and NetBeans prove that developers find these gateways useful, but how does their open source status impact the commercial Java tools market? Dan Roberts, Group Manager for Developer Tools Marketing at Sun, believes they likely mean the end for one type of commercial Java IDE. "There's a consolidation in the IDE space, and [as for] core edit/compile/debug IDEs, you're probably not going to be charging a whole lot for those going forward," he predicted.

"The major vendors have kind of said tools and development environments tend to be loss leaders for the rest of their platforms," he added. "That's made it very difficult for individual companies whose businesses are built on tools to survive."

Roberts does see plenty of opportunity for tools vendors who can focus their products on solving specific problems within the ecosystems that surround NetBeans and Eclipse, however. "There's such a myriad of technologies that developers might be interested in using that if you can provide something in front of what the larger vendors are doing, you always have that opportunity to monetize a piece of the ecosystem."

Java Turns Ten
With this month marking the tenth anniversary of Java's official launch, the conversation inevitably turned to reflection on the language Gosling created. Gosling's standard quip to the question of which aspect of Java's success he is most proud of is "getting bankers to use garbage collection," but he has a hard time choosing only one. He takes pride in the fact that Java has worked well enough for many developers to simply take it for granted at this point. He twice cited the example of developers who build Java apps on Mac OS X and then deploy them on Windows without even testing, because they just assume it will work.

"So much of the stuff that people thought was really outstanding about Java 10 years ago has now become so accepted that people don't even think about it anymore," said Gosling.

If there isn't a next great language, it says something really tragic about the evolution of computing technology.

But doesn't a language that's taken for granted risk losing its vitality and being overtaken by the next great language? "If there isn't a next great language, it says something really tragic about the evolution of computing technology and human civilization," Gosling said.

Does he see any on the horizon that might fit the bill? "I guess I haven't seen any out there yet that get me all excited," he said. "The world is filled with low-performance scripting languages, which I have a hard time getting excited about."

Gosling acknowledged that a number of programmers have built "interesting" languages on top of the JVM, but he finds the actual ASCII syntax of the Java language "relatively boring." It's the JVM specification itself that excites Gosling these days. "For me, that's the thing that makes just about every magical property happen."

Glen Kunene is the Managing Editor for DevX.
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