Disruptive forces in Java: Is Scala the new Spring framework?

Will Scala, Play, and Akka have the same sweeping effect on Java development that that Rod Johnson and the Spring framework have had?

Is Typesafe the new SpringSource?

Without a doubt, the most disruptive element to have hit the enterprise Java ecosystem in the past ten years was SpringSource, or more specifically, Rod Johnson and his panache for promoting dependency injection (DI) along with his call to abandon the big name application servers in favor of running your lightweight, EJB-free applications on little more than a Web container such as Tomcat.

But while Rod Johnson's ideas were revolutionary in 2004, the ideas behind DI and aspect oriented programming now seem standard and commonplace, especially now that many of the practices Rod was promoting through the Spring framework are now part and parcel of the latest Java EE spec.

But excitement over Spring was "so 2004." Who and what will be the next disruptive force in the enterprise Java computing landscape?

Looking for the next disruptive force

There are always new technologies and interesting approaches to application design that keep the industry dynamic. Cloud computing is all the rage, but despite the benefits of elasticity and scalability that the PaaS and SaaS offerings provide, these technologies don't fundamentally change how applications get developed.

Mobile computing and the BYOD mentality has changed how applications are delivered, but the underlying approach to application development and design has largely remained the same. PaaS, SaaS, mobile computing, the Android OS and other new prospects make enterprise computing more interesting and fun. However, they are not disruptive forces affecting Java developers.

Perhaps the following conjecture is wrong, and perhaps the whole trend towards peripheral JVM languages is just a flash in the pan, but if we're thinking about disruptive forces about to hit the Java computing landscape, is it possible that Martin Odersky is the new Rod Johnson, and Typesafe is the new SpringSource?

There's no question that the move towards peripheral JVM languages such as Scala and Cloujure is a major departure from the norm, not unlike the switch many developers made when they abandoned their EJBs in deference to the POJO-based Spring framework. But to truly be a disruptive force in the industry, being different isn't enough: there has to be a massive popular adoption of the technology. Is a mass movement towards Scala, Akka and Play in store in the near future?

Expanding the user-base

It's unclear what Typesafe has to do to get their programming stack to appeal heavily to the mainstream. If the first step is having a dedicated and vocal user base, then they certainly have that point covered. Being trapped in a room with Scala developers is like being trapped in a room with Amway salesmen – you never hear the end of how great it is, and you want desperately to get away from them. But to go mainstream, Typesafe has to appeal to more than just its early adopters.

How they do that is anyone's guess, but the August 22nd announcement from Typesafe of a $14 million dollar cash injection will no doubt help. Hopefully a good chunk of that will go into documentation, tutorials and an expansion of the knowledge base. Early adopters don't mind exploring the software and posting questions on StackOverflow, but if Scala and Play are to really go mainstream, Typesafe needs to take the pain out of learning this new approach to application development.

The enterprise Java community has been coasting on its laurels for too long now. It's time for a disruptive event that will change how programs are designed, and how applications target the Java Virtual Machine. Will Typesafe, with Scala, Akka, the Play framework and anything else they either develop or acquire with this new $14 million dollars in funding be the disruptive technology that shakes up the Java landscape? Only time will tell, but it's certainly has the potential.


Follow Cameron McKenzie on Twitter (@potemcam)

Recommended Titles

Josh Suereth's Scala in Depth on Amazon.com
Martin Odersky Programming in Scala
Cay S. Horstmann's Scala for the Impatient
Martijn Verburg's The Well-Grounded Java Developer

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