My thoughts on Java (part 2)

Sometimes, I feel like people give Java a bad rap. It's a language that's in demand out on the field and after using it for my school classes, I have found that it is easy to program in, it performs very well and your code is portable/cross-platform. Sounds great, right? At first glance Java magically turns everything that's hard to do into something easy.

But then I'll use Java-based software and somehow it manages to consistently be extremely complex to setup/configure (ie, tomcat+webapps), to have horrible looking UIs (ie, LimeWire, FreeNode, OpenOffice) and often it consumes lots of resources needlessly (ie, OpenOffice, LimeWire). I mean seriously, you can get a PHP or Python-enabled webserver up and running in under 2 commands on RHEL and then you just need to create a single script file to start serving pages. The Java community really needs to spend some time working on developer/user experience in my opinion.


My thoughts on Java after having used it for 2 months

One thing that has always annoyed me during my CEGEP studies is that although my CEGEP actually offers a computer programming profile, I can't take it. It is much easier for me to study pure & applied sciences in CEGEP and then apply to software engineering or computer science at university afterwards than it is to take the computer programming route at CEGEP because then I would be stuck catching up on a bunch of the requirements like calculus and physics after CEGEP.

You might ask, "Pure & applied sciences aren't so bad... So why is it annoying?" It's annoying because I cannot take more than one computer science-related course throughout my two years of studies at CEGEP in pure and applied science. Anyways, that ranting just to say that I've been saving that one computer-related class for my last semester, so this term I've been attending Introduction to Computer Programming in Engineering.

To my disappointment, I found out that we were going to be using Java throughout the entire class in class (I was hoping for a more modern programming language like Python, which I think would have been better suited for programming beginners). I've also always hated Java. Up until now I didn't really have a solid foundation for the hate - I just didn't like anything about it.

Now that two months of the course have gone by, I can say that I still dislike Java. I'll keep my reasons quick and to the point, but keep in mind that I'm saying this from the perspective of designing user applications to be run on a desktop machine:

  • For the longest time, Java was closed-soure and remained under the sole control of Sun Microsystems (now Oracle). Although most of Java has now been open sourced, the OpenJDK implementations are still incomplete.
  • Have you ever seen a GUI Java project? Even with a good deal of theming, they tend to look terrible next to some of the C++ GUI projects using Qt or WxWidgets for example. I'm a big fan of ease of use and good user interfaces, and Java does this very poorly with very little integration with the OS running the JVM. This point alone is enough to make me never touch Java again.
  • Java has much of the complexity of C or C++... So why not just program in C or C++? Doing the bit of extra work to handle garbage collection and getting it to work on multiple platforms will just make you a more experienced and better programmer in the long run. In addition, if you decide to use a toolkit like Qt or WxWidgets then much of the multi-platform work is done for you already.
  • Java has many annoying quirks:
    • Only one public class per file allowed
    • The filename must be the same as the name of that one public class
    • For all functional purposes it doesn't matter, you cannot make a simple, global "subroutine" in Java; everything must be a method and belong to a class.
  • It's clunky. If you start to add in GUI, networking and a few other components to your program it starts to get pretty large and resource-intensive. A C++ equivalent of the same program would be more efficient.

And there you have it: why I don't like using Java for real world application programming. Java certainly has its place - I think that it takes care of the mobile market/niche wonderfully - but for desktop applications Java is the wrong tool for the job.