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James Gosling on Java, May 1999
A Converstion with Java's Creator, James Gosling
by Bill Venners
First Published in JavaWorld, June 1999

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Summary
Java's Creator James Gosling talks with Bill Venners about the current state of the Java language.

On Wednesday, May 29, 1999 James Gosling, vice president and Sun fellow at Sun Microsystems and creator of the Java programming language, assessed the state of the Java language and platform in a phone interview with Bill Venners. In the course of the hour-long interview, Gosling discussed the current state of the Java programming language and the changes that are being considered for future versions of the language. Looking back to the Java language's early days, Gosling described the extent to which he had Jini technology in mind when he designed the Java language and the problems the Java platform solves in the enterprise. Gosling touched on those areas that have been a challenge for the Java language in the past and gave his impression of how they will be dealt with in the future.

The creator of the Java language also looked at how software and API development will change in the coming age of networked embedded devices. He explained why Jini technology's agree-on-interfaces approach to getting devices to work together on the network is superior to the traditional agree-on-protocols approach. In closing, Gosling shared his views about when it makes sense for developers to build a tool to solve the general case -- like he did when he invented the Java language -- and when it makes sense to concentrate on solving the specific problem at hand using available tools.

The Evolution of the Java Programming Language

Bill Venners: What has happened since the JavaOne show last spring that you think is significant in the evolution of the Java language?

James Gosling: The Java language itself has pretty much held constant. We've worked really hard to keep it very, very stable. We're being conservative about the Java language.

The kinds of things that have changed [since last year's JavaOne conference] have been implementations of the virtual machines underneath the language to give the language much higher performance, make it much more solid, and make it usable in many more situations. On top of the language we've done a lot of work with APIs. One of the key features of the language is this ability to define new facilities as classes. That's been where the explosion has really been: in all the APIs on top of the Java language itself. One main motivation for being conservative about the Java language and keeping it stable is so that all of this work on APIs that are on top of it doesn't get disturbed. Because that's where the real value is, in the stuff that's on top.

Bill Venners: What kind of changes can we expect to see in the language in the future?

James Gosling: There's a list of things that have been on the table for quite a long time. One of the things we get asked about a lot is type polymorphism, which shows up in C++ as its template maker. Five years ago, when I was trying to figure out the right thing to do as far as developing a new language, there were probably twice as many type polymorphism systems in the world as there were experts in type polymorphism. And nobody thought that anybody else's solution made any sense.

While there was a general feeling that there was something good about type polymorphism, exactly what it should look like was very unclear. There's been a really heated debate on this subject over the last few years. (There's a guy here named Gilad Bracha who's run herd on that debate, and a mailing list on the subject called the Java Genericity mailing list.) At this point we're down to about three proposals for type polymorphism, and it looks like we'll get to some kind of a resolution.

If you go to http://java.sun.com/people/jag/Presentations/COOTS99/index.html, you'll find a set of slides from a talk I gave in San Diego four weeks ago at COOTS 99, the Conference on Object-Oriented Technologies and Systems. In this talk, I go through unanswered questions concerning the Java language, including talking about what changes people have been asking for.

The number one thing people have been asking for is an assertion mechanism. Of course, that [request] is all over the map: There are people who just want a compile-time switch. There are people who think those are the spawn of the devil, and they want something that's more analyzable. Then there are people who want a full-blown Eiffel kind of thing. We're probably going to start up a study group on the Java platform community process. We've been using that process for everything, including language changes. There's already a study group starting up on type polymorphism, and a study group is also probably going to start up on assertions.

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