Josh Bloch’s talk at Javapolis caused quite a stir in the blogosphere, why is best summed up in a blogpost and its comments: Is Java a simple, less skill demanding language or is it - better can it be - also a home for programming geeks.There are two sides and a point can be made for both of them. As java had been need it was a geeky language - admittedly fueled by the internet hype - which attracted brillant minds. Thanks to these forerunners Java is now one of the top choices for mainstream programming. The ones of these who still stick around in the Java world now look with envy on Ruby, Scala and sometimes back on Smalltalk and want to use the ideas and techniques prevalent there in Java as well. But in practice - unless you happen to work at Google - most java programmers are not of this class. Big application written in Java are written and maintained by ordinary developers, not übergeeks that think in monads.The typical Java programmer in a large enterprise is more of the type of the VB programmer, perhaps he did some C or COBOL before. These people and their thinking about programming is deeply rooted in imperative style.A point could - and personally I think it should - be made if projects really require such large staff and if it weren’t better to use more advanced stuff to build it with fewer, but appropriately skilled developers (this is the Ruby claim), but face it, the enterprise world changes too slowly to accomondate for that.More than 10 years ago we evaluated some new development environments as a replacement for Oracle Forms 3. The most interesting candidates had been Forms 4.5 (obviously), Smalltalk (I don’t remember the vendor) and Franz Allegro CLOS (Ok, this had been the one I fancied). Java had been 1.1 or so in these days and the first looks at it were disappointing, C++ had been already in use, but there had been so many problems with it that it wasn’t ever really a consideration. Eventually we went for Forms because it would give our staff the easiest transistion. The main problem with Smalltalk and CLOS had been the paradigm shift. Neither the pure OO of Smalltalk nor the functional programming in Lisp were accessible to them.I think that the same could happen to Java if all the fancy functional programming (I love it!) would get into it. There are three problems
- FP is not compatible with the mindset of the majority of enterprise programmers. Also FP programs are harder to debug - this is a problem for the prevalent trail-and-error programmer (aka debugging into existence)
- Java is not Scala, one problem of BGGA is the non-local return. This isn’t an issue in true FP languages which are expression oriented, the statement oriented Java makes it awkward to deal with it
- DSLs are in fashion and a powerful concept for layering a complex application, but they create as well new languages: You can’t hire a Lisp or C++ programmer and expect him to be immediately productive as they have to learn the DSLs of your projects first
I initially found CICE (which Bloch promotes) to come a bit short, but now I am convinced that this is the right way to change Java as it keeps the characteristics of the language and can easily integrate into larger teams in any organization.This is the curse of being a mainstream language, you most not let out you users in the cold.For the other classes of problems languages like Scala that run on the JVM could be chosen. There some research has to be done by the system architect(s) how such code can integrate with Java code and how maintenance can be organized. This isn’t a trivial problem as not everything from another JVM language integrates seemlessly with Java code (i.e. you use this code as if it was written in Java), as well the question has to be answered (in each indiviual organization) if there is enough stability in the project to support an other language throughout the life-cycle - imagine a freelancer writing some core code in a language only known by him.