Java Technology (and one other) predictions for the next few years

I went to DevNexus in Atlanta a few weeks back. Neal Ford gave a talk on predicting the future. Neal is a great speaker and I found it very thought provoking. Now as a former colleague of Neal’s I also felt challenged to think about whether I agreed with him. Neal is a super-smart polyglot coder who does not quite view the world the way most devs do.

Here is my list and justifications for each. Some of these disagree with Neal’s predictions.

Will developers have to deal with the challenges of parallelisation in CPUs? No.

Neal said yes, and that this was justification to go with something like Scala with its Actors to avoid learning threading in Java. I say no, and here’s why.

The issue is real enough. Core frequency has stopped increasing and CPUs are getting more cores. Lots more cores. For example, the Sun Fire X4640 server comes with 4 to 8 Six-Core AMD Opteron processors. That’s 48 processors. The normal threading approach has been to use monitors where one thread at a time gets exclusive access to an object or a synchronized block. That works well with small numbers of cores, but not with lots. What happens is that more and more time gets spent waiting to acquire a lock. The newer approach avoids this as much as possible with a whole slew of tricks such as immutable collections like CopyOnArraySet and CAS.

So will devs have to deal with this? No. Why? Because in the Java world developers are mostly protected from multi-threading. Instead the JDK (think java.util.concurrent), web containers and app servers (think Glassfish, Jetty and Tomcat) and libraries, like my own Ehcache have to deal with this. Those libraries that do get to play in this new world. Those that don’t will fall by the wayside. But it is these product and project vendors who are affected, not the vast developer population.

One ring to rule them all… Maven

William Gibson once said “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” A few years ago I banked on Maven becoming a big deal and decided to back it big time. I converted Ehcache to it and the corporate stuff I was doing too. Everywhere. People complain that Maven is too complicated. Well, the problem is complicated. I admit that Maven ranks up there with EJB in its difficulty. But it is getting better. Maven sets lofty ambitions for a system of world-wide component development, and is largely successful. Hats off to Jason and co.

I surveyed my audiences on my recent US tour. In Silicon Valley, 60% used Maven. In the rest of the country about 40-50%. Where is the future already here?

Swallow the red pill.

Brave new polyglot world

4 years ago, fearing I was missing out on the dynamic language revolution, I learnt Python and then Ruby, both of which were in use at my workplace. That was useful and fun.

Now, as Java developers it is difficult not to feel inadequate unless you know Java and a couple more JVM languages which in order of descending popularity I believe are: Groovy, Scala, JRuby, Cloujure, Jython ….

Ok, so how many people can code fluently in Java and one of these in the same day?  Well, I asked my audiences. Answer: < 5%. Which thinking back jelled with my corporate experience. There were two guys, both brothers, who were polyglots. And a few pretenders. And the rest of us struggled.

For the record I am saying that we all need to know at least XML, HTML, CSS, JS, shell, maven, ant – no argument there.

Neal suggested that projects would be written in multiple languages because “that’s how ThoughtWorks Studios does it and that is the future”. Not. ThoughtWorks is filled with polyglots like Neal – which is not representative of the community at large.

My prediction is that a whole project will be written in one JVM language, whether it be Java or one of the others.

Of course a given project can exploit existing libraries which are in byte code form independent of the language they were written in. Incidentally, to support this world, Ehcache is in Grails, has a very useful Groovy caching framework called SpringCache (it is for Groovy not Spring though), has a JRuby GEM and so on. In other words we make ourselves available

Self Healing Open Source

I sometimes worry about the future of Java with the consolidation that has happened – not just the Oracle acquisition but things like Spring. It is a different world than the one we were in 5 years ago. Something similar happened in Unix, which started off free in the 1970s but by the late 80s was dominated by commercial vendors who were in the Unix Wars.

What happened? Linux.

Before turning off the lights, Sun open sourced pretty much everything they owned. That creates a legal basis for the forking of that code into new projects if the open source community feels it needs to self-heal.

So will it? That depends on the vendors. But I think we as developers are safe.

Virtualisation and that cloudy stuff

Love it or hate it, virtualisation is here to stay. Get over it.

Are there problems? Yes. Do the cloud environments create even more problems? Yes. But this is a sea change in our industry which is mostly about freeing us from sysadmin costs and is therefore unstoppable. Get on board or become a dinosaur.

Global Warming

I read a book 5 years ago called The Skeptical Environmentalist which argued quite convincingly a whole host of politically incorrect views, most notably that there were multiple explanations for the warming observations such as the sun spot level. Bjørn Lomborg was pilloried for this and formally investigated for scientific dishonesty. He prevailed.

So at the time my view was that the case was unproven. The nice thing about empirical science is that theories can be falsified with more data. An of course the more data we get the more probably it becomes that global warming is real and is not a problem that will solve itself.

So for some non-Java predictions:

  1. Global warming will eventually be proven to most people’s satisfaction (think evolution) to be correct
  2. Despite the heroic efforts of the Europeans amongst others, some serious warming will occur
  3. This will happen in a perfect storm with the rising cost of fertilizers (based on the price of oil) rolling back a chunk of the green revolution of the 60s
  4. There will therefore be lots of hot, thirsty, hungry people looking for a new home
  5. New Zealand is one of the few places in the world predicted to be little affected by global warming
  6. lots of people will want to move to New Zealand

So the smart money would say “Apply for New Zealand citizenship now and beat the rush”.

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