Guardian Drops Java, Google Gobbles Up Gosling

Is Java losing its mojo? One might think so, after hearing that the Guardian in the UK is switching away from it to make some important site improvements. Meanwhile, Google still thinks Java is important, to judge from its newest hire.

With only the New York Times beating it for readership in its category of online news, the UK-based Guardian decided to reduce the time required to deliver new features. Rather than stay with Java and Oracle, its developers chose to switch to a system based on Scala and MongoDB. Scala is based on Java, but it is a more advanced programming language, featuring both a functional approach and objects.

Graham Tachley, the Web Platform Development Team Lead for the guardian.co.uk site, noted significant improvements with Scala, which his team uses for real-time content searching, indexing or updating. Moving to Scala saved a tremendous amount of time; instead of taking 20 hours to build the search index, it now takes only one.

While Scala and MongoDB are less tried and trusted tools than Java and Oracle, it looks like the team at the Guardian aren’t afraid of being early adopters. We can expect that other online publishers with large readerships will watch the results of this large-scale experiment very closely.

{mospagebreak title=Google Hires Java’s James Gosling}
The move hardly means that Java is decreasing in importance online, however. In fact, Google’s latest move may indicate just the opposite. The search engine giant just hired none other than James Gosling, the inventor of Java. Gosling left Oracle last year. For those coming late to the story, Oracle bought Sun, Gosling’s employer, back in 2009. Gosling quit because of unhappiness with Oracle’s micromanagement of his work and the tremendous pay cut he was forced to take to continue working there.

Perhaps one of the more interesting wrinkles to Google hiring Gosling is that Oracle had sued Google last fall, charging the search engine with using copyrighted Java code in Android. Even with the inventor of Java working at Google, Oracle’s suit will likely continue to move forward. So what does Google gain from hiring the programmer?

For openers, it gains “a position of thought leadership and mindshare” among the Java community, according to Paul Krill at Info World. And obviously, it gains an engineer with some very strong experience with programming language design – an obvious asset as Google goes forward with Android. Gosling’s skills may also come into play to help develop programming languages to handle the challenge of analyzing the massive data sets Google engineers must deal with, simply as part of the job of keeping the search engine running.

One challenge that both Google and Gosling will face going forward is that their approaches to Java differ significantly. Gosling once noted that “Everything I care about is in the JVM,” but Google rarely takes the stock JVM approach. Its Google App Engine, for example, has earned criticism from developers because it does not support the full Java specification.

So how will Google and Gosling handle these differences? It’s difficult to say, especially since Gosling hasn’t received his first assignment. So what will he do? By his own account, “I expect it’ll be a bit of everything, seasoned with a large dose of grumpy curmudgeon.” In any case, he’ll hardly be the only major language designer on the Google campus; Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, also works there. What kind of interesting cross-pollination might take place is anyone’s guess, but with little likelihood of micromanagement in Gosling’s future, the future of Java – and Google – looks very good indeed. 

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