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object-oriented programming

The Java platform -- technology innovation

Java is the newest wave of technology. It offers a distributed object-oriented platform for the development of Web-aware applications. However, as with any wave of technology, we must ask ourselves whether it really does provide an answer to our questions. And, in the line of  [Lewis97], we may well ask ourselves what the original question was in the first place.


slide: Perspectives

Whether Java does answer answer our needs for technological innovation is a matter of perspective. The question whether Java will provide an economically viable solution to corporate IT needs can not be answered at this stage. Yet, Java frameworks are being developed. See section San-Francisco.

In this section, we will look at the Java platform from the perspectives listed in slide Perspectives. The rhetoric in these reflections must not be misunderstood as dismissing Java, but as a way to get hold of the issues that play a role in adopting the Java technology, or any of the competing technologies, for business-critical applications.

Internet applications

Java was introduced in 1995 at the WWW3 Conference in Darmstadt as `the dial-tone of the Internet', with applets as its killer application. The dial-tone, because Java is platform-neutral and network-aware. In practice, applets form only a small part of Java applications. Together with the Beans component technology and RMI, Java seems to be an ideal platform for companies that wish to employ the Internet and the Web for commercial applications. However, most developers have no idea how to adopt the Java platform without sacrificing their investment in legacy applications, such as a corporate database. The question is whether there is a migration strategy. In comparison, OMG CORBA seems to have better answers in this respect, although combinations of RMI and JNI (the Java Native Interface) have also been suggested as a technical solution.

Software engineering

 [Lewis97] argues that within two decades we will have Java legacy problems similar to the legacy maintenance problems we have now. Software development with Java is not an issue. There are excellent tools, there is a large amount of good documentation, and there are loads of APIs. In general, software development with Java seems to be easier than, for example, with C++. However, long-term maintenance is a different question altogether. The answer to this question depends on standardization, and issues such as language and platform independence. We must consider that Java is a programming technology, and a good one in this respect, and not an integration technology such as CORBA, for which the specification of domain-independent and domain-specific standards, including services and facilities, is the primary issue.

Language design

Java may be regarded as a second-generation third-generation programming language. Complex as this may sound, it is meant to express that Java is an object-oriented imperative language that shows the influence of many of its predecessors, the minimality of Pascal, threads, the flavor of C++. Personally, I am somewhat bothered by the semantic compromises in Java. For example, the equality operator for strings does, against all expectations, not test for string equality but for reference equality. Threads is another issue. Why only a keyword synchronized and not an Ada-like select? See, for example,  [Petitpierre98]. Java has been developed in great haste. For example, assertion (like Eiffel) seem to have been omitted simply because the implementation was buggy at the time of a delivery deadline.

System development

The Java virtual machine is a good idea. It can be realized on any platform, including computers of all sorts and a variety of gadgets. Java is easy to learn and there are many tools. However, a survey entitled `Are Java Tools ready for Prime Time' indicated that all tools still needed improvements.

Now back to the reality of software development. Many Internet applications are written in script languages. Perl for server-side scripting and Javascript on the client-side. Given the efficiency problems of Java (which are a consequence of the virtual machine approach) and the long download times for applets, Java runs the risk of being too light for heavy-duty servers and too heavy for lightweight clients.

Computer science

Java has been adopted by many universities as the first programming language, and students like it. That is a good thing, although I am worried to see C++ disappear from the curriculum.

In terms of research, what Java offers is not really new. Personally, I am somewhat disappointed that the attention is focused on another third-generation language, whereas to my mind, we should have a declarative programming technology on our research agendas, a technology that supports the development of reliable and verifiable software. Nevertheless, Java appears to be an excellent platform for Web-related research.

IT (in) business

Java is being adopted rapidly. It is nevertheless hard to establish to what extent this involves mission-critical applications or pilot projects. After all, at the time of writing, Java is still cutting-edge technology. And common wisdom has it not to use cutting-edge technology for strategic projects, see  [Surviving].

An example of a business application framework is the IBM San Francisco framework, discussed in section San Francisco, which offers generic solutions for the realization of business processes, such as order management and quality control. Nevertheless, crucial issues in this area do not seem to concern technology per se, but rather the standardization of such notions as business objects, business processes and, of course, business logic. This is also an area of active OMG interest.

Global village

On the Internet we see an increasing number of virtual communities deploying 3D technology for rendering worlds and their inhabitants. Imagine a virtual stockmarket. Decisions must be taken quickly. There is an overload of information, from a variety of sources. Stock prices, political tensions, market trends, all these must be monitored continuously. In critical situations, direct actions must be possible. A nice playground for virtual worlds technology. Is the Java platform ripe for this? It might, given the Java3D and JavaVRML97 efforts. And what about the knowledge management?


In summary, Java is a promising platform, with a wealth of APIs for the development of a variety of applications. At this stage there might be problems of efficiency and problems due to the instability and immaturity of the APIs offered. However, as indicated, there are a number of issues that surpass the reach of the Java platform since they do not depend on technical solutions only. The most important issues, I would say, concern the standardization of (domain-specific) business objects and processes, and the migration problems due to the inescapable existence of legacy applications.

(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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