An evening with James Gosling

Yesterday I attended a talk by James Gosling (father of Java). Actually it wasn’t a prepared speech – Gosling simply fielded questions from the audience for 80 minutes.

All in all it was very interesting. A question that came up in numerous forms was “what’s coming next?”, and it’s clear that Gosling is a big fan of closures in the form proposed by Neal Gafter. Farther out, he sees concurrency and the rise of multi-cores as being a big, looming issue for Java to deal with in the post-Java 7 future (I think it’s a lot closer to hand, as I have written in other posts).

Another question was about the competition for developer mindshare. The questioner mentioned Ruby and Perl 6, and Gosling pointed out that Ruby now runs on the JVM, and faster than the original interpreted implementation. Very true. He then brought up the more serious competitor, C#, but here Gosling said something very strange. He said that C# used to be a serious threat that kept him up at nights, but recently he wasn’t so worried because Microsoft have been distracted by the effort of shipping Vista.

This is sheer complacency, and it’s extremely dangerous. Yes, Vista soaked up significant resources, but Microsoft has by no means taken its eye off the ball in the fight for developer mindshare, and they continue to innovate on both C# and the .Net platform at a rapid pace. Underestimating Microsoft’s fighting spirit has been fatal for many, many companies. No, they’re not going to kill Sun or Java any time soon, but that absolutely remains their goal.

Finally, Gosling is a master of colourful metaphors, so here are a few choice quotes from the evening:

  • “People do not have good intuition about… almost anything.”
  • “The JVM is very stable. The syntax of Java is moderately stable. The APIs are flaming chaos.”
  • Aspect Oriented Programming is “good in theory” but “in practice, a bit like giving AK-47s to children.”
  • When asked what he would get rid of, if designing Java again from scratch: “Braces! And AWT!”
  • “Vista is like a beached whale.”