TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Jul 96 Dialog Box
Volume Number:12
Issue Number:7
Column Tag:Dialog Box

Dialog Box

By Matt Neuburg, letters@mactech.com

Java Without the Hype

Introduction

Talking to my colleagues about Java, I find as many skeptics as enthusiasts. Both sides generally are reacting to the hype, the one rejecting it, the other accepting it. But there are reasons to praise and disparage Java without regard to that hype - that is, without regard to its use on the Internet.

Such a critique is possible because Java is designed to (among other things) support the development of stand-alone, cross-platform applications. So the question at hand really is, “How good is Java as a general-purpose language, and how good is its implementation?”

Java Implementation

As it happens, the rough spots in Java are due mainly to its implementation, which is correctable, not to its language features. The Java libraries are incomplete. I could not, for example, mimic a simple FaceSpan-built interface in Java; it seems not to distinguish checkboxes and radio buttons. The libraries are buggy; list boxes would not reshape or draw correctly, for example. More important, there is no visual interface builder (yet); interfaces have to be created “inside out” - that is, starting with text, as during the Neolithic Age. FaceSpan, Visual Basic, Delphi and others have shown that there should be visual interface builders for a language from day one.

It is also shocking to see the sloppy, unannotated, even unformatted “example” applets made public in the developer’s kit.

But implementation problems are correctable; they are significant only until they are fixed. The more important aspects of a language are its feature set and the development methodology that it supports. This is the side of a language that is cast in concrete, and that can make it usable immediately and for the long term - or not. Now the question is, “Does Java represent progress in language design?”

A Little History

Program language design has made great progress during its 50-year history, albeit in steps both forward and backward. Real-life usage constantly suggests or demands new features and, when “enough” demand has accumulated, some brave soul abandons the current languages to design another that addresses at least some of the demands.

The demands upon languages are both concrete and abstract. Concrete demands relate to things like control constructs, data types and fine points of syntax and semantics. More abstract demands are those in support of certain methodologies; these, of course, lead to concrete demands, such as demand for a syntax that supports data abstraction.

It is fairly easy to see the major trends in language design, and to see the progressive and regressive language features. Here are some of the major trends:

• Movement toward “higher-level” control constructs, those that do more in fewer instructions. From assembly-language looping constructs, we moved to the FORTRAN “for” loop, and to the implicit loops of APL or the removal of loops by way of recursion.

• Simplification and reduction, the factoring out of necessary and sufficient features from the current feature experiments. In PL/I, we could loop n times, forward or backward; or loop over any arbitrary list of numbers; or over any combination of forward, backward and arbitrary; and do this “while” or “until” some other condition is true. Pascal reduced this to the simplest “for”, “repeat” and “while” loops.

• Putting features into libraries instead of into the language itself. PL/I is a huge language; every conceivable feature (at the time) was put into it. C, on the other hand, is a small core language with large standard libraries.

• Strong typing, which is the detection at compile time of errors that would otherwise occur at run time. Familiar examples of this concern type-checking in expressions and in parameter lists. In FORTRAN and C, actual and formal parameters need not match; in Pascal and Ada, they must match or the program will not compile.

• Information hiding in all its forms, including encapsulation, data abstraction and objects. Opportunities for information hiding within a COBOL program are non-existent; it is very much better in Pascal; and it is key to Object Pascal and C++, both of which support objects.

There was much more in this historical mix - recursion, functional programming, orthogonality, regularity, parameter-passing protocols, and many advances in the implementation of these features - but I think I have highlighted the major ones.

Progress and Regression

The hundreds of languages that have sprung up in the last 50 years, including the dozen that have seen widespread adoption, were not always progressively better, although most fit the moods in which they were designed.

Pascal was progressive because it was a simplification, because it demonstrated the benefits of strong typing, and because it was designed for fast, single-pass compilation. But it was too simple for real-world development until it had good supporting libraries.

C was progressive because it, too, was a simplification, and because it defined a set of libraries as “standard” extensions of the language. But C was also regressive with respect to its arcane declaration syntax, the weakest typing since assembly language, and its exclusion of strings as a native type.

Object Pascal and C++ were progressive because they catenated objects onto compiled languages already in widespread use, but Object Pascal now suffers “socially” from being based upon an abandoned language, while C++ suffers technically from being based upon C.

Java’s Place in History

And now Java: How does Java fit into the evolution of languages? It is progressive in several ways, some of which are:

• It is a simplification (but not an over-simplification) of C++, the most popular object-oriented language.

• It reasserts the necessity of strong typing.

• It brings strings back into the language (and makes arrays first-class citizens).

• It provides high-level program-structuring features - packages and interfaces.

• Objects are central to its design; they are not just an add-on or an “orientation”.

Java does perpetuate some irritating features of C and C++. For example, it uses the prefix notation for declarations, whereby you sometimes must read a half-dozen qualifiers before you can find an object’s name. But, minor irritants aside, Java is a real advance in language design.

This does not mean, of course, that everyone will like its features or even use them to greatest advantage. C hackers (not all C programmers) who now willingly pass along the costs of weak typing and wild-card pointers to their customers will be irritated that there is no switch to turn off responsible programming. And I have already seen a published binary-tree example that simply ignores the object features to implement the tree in a completely “traditional” way. But programming has always included ego, habit, ignorance, self-indulgence and resistance to change, alongside common sense, experimentation, experience, responsibility and progress. Good languages tend to support the good programming traits, but they cannot always suppress the bad.

Summary

Even if we disregard the self-serving hype of all who hope to profit financially from the spread of Java (and especially if we disregard the ignorant parroting of the popular press and the “new world order” freaks), we find that Java is an important step in the evolution of programming languages, a step we all need to take.

Postscript

Let me make a proposal concerning Java: programmers should hijack it.

Java is an important new tool; we must not accept the idea that it is just for the Internet, or just for “applets”, or just for cross-platform development, or that it is just Sun’s language. Schools should start teaching it in introductory courses; we should create a demand for good compilers (even if machine-specific) and good development environments; and we should pressure Java’s authors and promoters into making the standard libraries correct, comprehensive and truly cross-platform as soon as possible.

- David “Uncle Dave” Moffat, Senior Engineer at SDU
uncle.dave@sdu.com

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Viber 6.2.0 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device, so... Read more
Lyn 1.7.2 - Lightweight image browser an...
Lyn is a fast, lightweight image browser and viewer designed for photographers, graphic artists, and Web designers. Featuring an extremely versatile and aesthetically pleasing interface, it delivers... Read more
Lyn 1.7.2 - Lightweight image browser an...
Lyn is a fast, lightweight image browser and viewer designed for photographers, graphic artists, and Web designers. Featuring an extremely versatile and aesthetically pleasing interface, it delivers... Read more
Tunnelblick 3.6.7beta02 - GUI for OpenVP...
Tunnelblick is a free, open source graphic user interface for OpenVPN on OS X. It provides easy control of OpenVPN client and/or server connections. It comes as a ready-to-use application with all... Read more
jAlbum Pro 13.4 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. You can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly... Read more
calibre 2.65.1 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
jAlbum 13.4 - Create custom photo galler...
With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly, with pro results - Simply drag and drop photos into groups, choose a design... Read more
Backblaze 4.2.0.966 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac. With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Backblaze 4.2.0.966 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac. With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Tunnelblick 3.6.7beta02 - GUI for OpenVP...
Tunnelblick is a free, open source graphic user interface for OpenVPN on OS X. It provides easy control of OpenVPN client and/or server connections. It comes as a ready-to-use application with all... Read more

Mummy madness in new action game Tomb He...
Hot on the tail of Bump Hero, ZPlay is giving gamers another reason to get screen bashing with a brand new release. Tomb Heroes is a challenging action game in which you battle enemies in various tombs around the world. You can select from nine... | Read more »
Siralim 2 (RPG / Roguelike) (Games)
Siralim 2 (RPG / Roguelike) 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Siralim 2 is an old-school monster catching RPG. Summon and customize hundreds of creatures to fight for you as... | Read more »
Clean Text (Productivity)
Clean Text 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Gemini - A Journey of Two Stars (Games)
Gemini - A Journey of Two Stars 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: *** SPECIAL LAUNCH SALE: $2.99 (25% off) *** "A mesmerizing and unexpectedly emotional journey." -- Los... | Read more »
How to get four NFL superstars for your...
Even though you're probably well on your way to building a top notch squad for the new season in Madden NFL Mobile, let's say you could beef it up by adding Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Von Miller, and Todd Gurley to your roster. That's... | Read more »
Cartoon Network Superstar Soccer: Goal!!...
Cartoon Network Superstar Soccer: Goal!!! – Multiplayer Sports Game Starring Your Favorite Characters 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Become a soccer superstar with your... | Read more »
NFL Huddle: What's new in Topps NFL...
Can you smell that? It's the scent of pigskin in the air, which either means that cliches be damned, pigs are flying in your neck of the woods, or the new NFL season is right around the corner. [Read more] | Read more »
FarmVille: Tropic Escape tips, tricks, a...
Maybe farming is passé in mobile games now. Ah, but farming -- and doing a lot of a other things too -- in an island paradise might be a little different. At least you can work on your tan and sip some pina coladas while tending to your crops. [... | Read more »
Become the King of Avalon in FunPlus’ la...
King Arthur is dead. Considering the legend dates back to the 5th century, it would be surprising if he wasn’t. But in the context of real-time MMO game King of Avalon: Dragon Warfare, Arthur’s death plunges the kingdom into chaos. Evil sorceress... | Read more »
Nightgate (Games)
Nightgate 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: *** Launch Sale: 25% OFF for a limited time! *** In the year 2398, after a great war, a network of intelligent computers known as... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

9-inch 32GB iPad Pros on sale for $70 off MSR...
B&H Photo has 9″ 32GB WiFi Apple iPad Pros on sale for $70 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 9″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $529 $70 off MSRP - 9... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $140 off MSRP
Adorama has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP Amazon has the... Read more
Back To School with OtterBox Essentials
Back to school means back to an environment that is tough on tech. OtterBox has the back to school essentials you need to keep tech safe from drops, bumps, scratches and hallway havoc. Check out the... Read more
VRS Design Releases New iPhone 7 Plus Case Li...
With a device as large and costly as the iPhone 7 Plus, it is primal instinct to protect it from potential damage. According to a study by SquareTrade in 2012, iPhone damages cost Americans roughly $... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for up to $101 off MSRP
Amazon has 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for up to $101 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (model MJVM2LL/A): $798 $101 off MSRP - 11″ 1.6GHz/256GB... Read more
Apple certified refurbished iPad mini 4s avai...
Apple has certified refurbished iPad mini 4s now available for up to $120 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each iPad, and shipping is free. The following models... Read more
Apple price trackers, updated continuously
Scan our Apple Price Trackers for the latest information on sales, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers. We update the trackers continuously: - 15″... Read more
Global Tablet Shipments Projected to Increase...
Digitimes’ Jim Hsiao reports that global tablet shipments will increase by 16.3 percent sequentially to reach nearly 47 million units in 2016′s third quarter, but that volume will still be down over... Read more
Apple’s 2016 Back to School promotion: Free B...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Air 2s available start...
Apple has Certified Refurbished iPad Air 2 available starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 128GB Wi-Fi iPad Air 2: $499 - 64GB Wi-Fi iPad... Read more

Jobs Board

SW Engineer *Apple* TV - Apple Inc. (United...
The Apple TV team is looking for excellent software engineers with experience in hardware, media management, media playback, content delivery and a passion for Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions Victor,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* /Mac Support Engineer - GFI Digital,...
FI Digital, Inc. is currently seeking candidates for a full time Apple Support Engineer to add to our Maryland Heights, Missouri IT team. Candidates must be dynamic Read more
SW Engineer *Apple* TV - Apple Inc. (United...
The Apple TV team is looking for excellent software engineers with experience in hardware, media management, media playback, content delivery and a passion for Read more
Senior *Apple* Administrator - Pratt Instit...
POSITION SUMMARY: Directs the coordination and standardization of campus-wide Apple systems, including planning, analysis and implementation of Apple -related Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.