Mar 2, 2009

Small language changes for JDK7

I am a thoroughly conservative guy and quite naturally tend to be a late adopter even if I am aware of a particular new technology in general. Watching a panel on future of Java on a couple of years ago I was quite surprised by people of Joshua Bloch caliber discussing Java as a probably mature/declining language.

Back then I expected that somehow that language changes of Java5-magnitude would be added with each new release. I believe that only in Java5 the language was getting some of the C++ power it was originally deprived of (e.g. STL and all the features enabling it). So it felt as Sun finally decided to get serious about the language and stop dumbing it down to almost VB level.

Surely enough the titans were right and saw it coming even back then. In contrast to the JVM (as in garbage collectors or contested monitor performance) Java does not seem to have meaningful progress anymore. Syntactic sugar just is not worth it in my opinion. And Doug Lea seems to be the only one pushing Java's limits.

Things like catch blocks for multiple exceptions do not bring much to the table, not to mention all the legacy code which is not likely to be migrated. And to have mixed styles in the same code base is even worse than to have gratuitious blocks in the first place. As a creature of habit, I do not even notice such things anymore, I code them on auto-pilot.

Last year I was reading the Erlang book and got so confused with FP idioms that I had to digress and read the Scala book to better grasp what all the FP hype was about. It did not convert me from OOP but definitely made me appreciate FP (and incidentally reminded me about STL which enabled all the FP-style fun with lists fifteen years ago).

And somewhere down that road I found myself thinking that I do not want Java to be changed dramatically anymore. An attempt to make Java more sophisticated would result is a limited version of, say, Scala. It would be a new language and all the existing code would immediately become non-idiomatic. Or in the worst case there would be just a few special cases hard-coded into the language instead of meta-protocol-like facilities.

So, if even I have this funny feeling that any potential Java upgrades (years ahead, and some people have not migrated even to 1.6) are not as appealing as a modern language such as Scala probably the tide is actually turning.

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