(Note: I posted this to Slashdot about a week ago and it’s still pending. I’ll update this when they finally get it in their review section)
(Update: It finally got posted, only two months later.)
I recently got sent a copy of Bruce Tate‘s newest book Beyond Java – A Glimpse at the Future of Programming Languages. Having read Bruce’s Bitter Java and Better, Faster, Lighter Java, I was intrigued to see what he would have to say about moving beyond Java. In short: If you’re a hard-core Java (or to a lesser extent, C#) developer who thinks Ruby is something that goes on a ring, Pythons will bite you, and Smalltalk is something you have to do at parties, you are in for a rude awakening.
Let’s get down to it. For many people, Java pays the bills. For dealing with big problems, it is a wonderful language with a myriad of libraries for solving domain-specific problems. The author thinks that this focus on the larger applications is causing Java to alienate the developers who need solutions to small, real-world problems, like babysitting a database with a web site.
Bruce starts out in Chapter 1 discussing a disrupting experience he recently had when he discovered how much faster and more productive he and his team were when they switched mid-stream to Ruby on Rails. He gives some controversial numbers that discuss this improvement. This experience leads him to realize that maybe Java is dying – or at least fading in certain areas.
His next sections (Chapters 2 and 3) discusses the “Perfect Storm” that led Java to become the leader it is today. How it traded the OO purity of Smalltalk to woo C++ developers. And how the programming environment was calling out for a language like it.
But that landscape is changing, and Java is having a hard time keeping up. In chapter 4, he gives an example of servlets. Earlier servlet specs allowed you to get a Hello, World servlet, albeit ugly, up rather quickly. That same example now requires deployment descriptors, packaging into WAR files, configuration files, etc, etc. For Java developers, this is the norm, but for a developer new to Java, who wants to learn all that?
Chapter 5 is a discussion of what Bruce feels is the Rules of the Game, or what the next “Killer language” will need in order to beat out Java. This was a very good treatment, highlighting some of the good and bad of Java and languages as a whole. For example, he rates high that you will need some sort of Enterprise Integration, Internet Focus, and Interoperability. He also feels things like dynamic typing, rapid feedback loops and dynamic class models (making reflection more natural).
Most importantly, it needs a killer app to act as a catalyst to get people’s mindsets changed. In Chapters 6, 7 and 8, he gives examples of some killer apps – Ruby on Rails and Smalltalk’s Continuation servers (like Seaside). Chapter 6 is a kick-in-the-teeth intro to Ruby (which left me wanting to go out and pick up Dave Thomas’ Programming Ruby book). Chapter 7 shows a sample Ruby on Rails application, and Chapter 8 gives a very interesting look into Continuation servers and the work being done by the Smalltalk community on it.
Finally, he closes the book with a list of Primary and Secondary contenders that could up and replace Java. Primaries include Ruby, Python, Groovy, and .NET (C# and VB.NET). Secondary contenders include Perl, Smalltalk, PHP and Lisp, which he summarizes as: “Perl’s too loose and too messy, PHP is too close to the HTML, Lisp is not accessible, and Smalltalk wasn’t Java”. To which he adds, “…go ahead and fire up your GMail client and your thesaurus, and drop me a nasty note. Ted Neward reviewed this book, so I can take a few more euphemisms for the word sucks“.
Thankfully there is nothing in this book that would cause me to write a nasty note to Mr. Tate. In fact, if you haven’t begun looking at other languages and are heavy in the Java world, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the book. It’s a fast, intriguing read with great insights and the chance to save yourself from looking around 4 years from now wondering what the heck happened, and why all of these developers can afford jewels and play with snakes while chatting among themselves.