A couple of questions concerning Java have ended up in the bin over the past few weeks, and rather than handle them separately, I've decided to lump them together as they deal with Java's use as a learning language, as opposed it's traditional use as an application language, and in many cases, which looks to be replacing C/C++ in this role. Personally, I feel that teaching Java in college is fine, however I'm a little concerned in it's replacing C/C++ in that role. This, of course, begs the question is C/C++ any better. How about this: if you were going to structure a curriculum to teach Object Oriented concepts, would you teach it using Java, C/C++, or something else?
First, tulare queries: "I'm currently a student at a small university whose CS students are required to attend two terms of Java programming courses before moving on to other OOP languages. My personal feeling is that Java is clunky, ugly, and runs much too slow on most platforms. The official CS department position is that Java is pure OOP (as opposed to C, for example), and furthermore, Java is extremely widely used at this time. Now, I may be stirring things up a little here, but just because everyone does something one way does not neccessarily mean that something is being done the best way. What I'm asking is to hear reasoned opinions on the following statements:
- Java is a fine development language, and it will help me as a programmer to learn it.
- I'm right. Java is a fad, not worth much more than the Windows OS in terms of quality, and my CS faculty is doing me a disservice by cramming it down my throat.
- There's a little truth in both the above statements."
While on IRC, I was discussing this issue a bit with other editors and Chris DiBona happened to have some thoughts on the matter, his words follow:
When Cliff mentioned that a Java in education story was going to be posted, I asked to weigh in on the topic. I will not talk about the suitablity of using a non-free language, as I'm certain that will be discussed in the comments and is not a trivial issue.
I don't think that Java, or any Object Oriented language, would be suitable for an AP Computer science class. I don't think it serves the needs of students looking to fully understand the internal workings of a computer, which is in my mind what an AP computer science course should be directed towards.
C is a language that has been designed to be very close to the hardware, and its ideosyncracies and power reflect that. Through this relationship, C reflects the realities of the hardware your programs run on. Memory management, low level process and I/O control are all things that a computer scientist should understand at a very low level, to better aid in future programming and debugging no matter which language is chosen or inflicted upon said scientist.
In contrast, Java has been designed to take such concerns away from the programmer. Memory management? Low level IO? These are not the droids you were looking for.. (at least not without an RMI written in another language) That's okay too, that isn't what people want from Java and it isn't what it was designed to do.
And that is exactly my problem with it being applied in a computer science course designed to teach CS fundamentals. In short, since I believe that AP CS courses should focus on the low level architecture of computing, Java is an inappropriate language for that course.
When is Java appropriate? In your college sophomore comparative languages course, or, alternatively, in an OO course or two, but it shouldn't be used as the keystone language for any CS program. Please don't take this as me saying that Java is neither useful or important in it's own (non-free) way, as it clearly is. However, in my opinion, It should be considered an adjunct subject to a serious program in Computer Science.