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Study reveals not-so-hot Java

Despite the growing popularity of the Java language, many big businesses just aren't ready to use it for their most important applications, a study says.

Java may be one of the hottest development languages of the future, but it's getting a mostly chilly reception now, according to a study.

Despite Java's growing popularity, many big businesses just aren't ready to use it for their most important applications, the study said. For instance, business software developers still primarily reach for tried-and-tested tools, such as Microsoft's Visual Basic, along with C and C++ for building business applications, according to the study by Zona Research.

The survey found that 35 percent of programmers use Visual Basic as their preferred language for writing business software, while 20 percent picked C and C++. Java ranked third with 9 percent in the third quarter of 1999, up from 5 percent six months ago.

Sun Microsystems, which invented Java, touts it as a universal language that allows developers to write software code once and have it run on any Java-enabled device.

Sun could not be reached for comment today on the study.

But Zona's study doesn't surprise IBM, which is another large Java supporter. "We're seeing companies continue to use the languages that they've used to build up their infrastructure, but as we move forward, there's a transformation toward Java as the common programming model for e-businesses," said Scott Hebner, IBM's program director for e-business technology marketing.

The study shows Java is still a young language and that the three older languages are deeply entrenched in corporate use, said Zona Research analyst Martin Marshall.

"A lot of people already have stuff written and they're not going to throw away that code," Marshall said.

The results were similar when developers were asked about their secondary language of choice. Of the 150 people surveyed, Visual Basic and the combination of C and C++ tied for first place with 22 percent each, while 10 percent chose Java.

Compared to other development languages in common use, Java is a relative newcomer on the development scene. Visual Basic first appeared in 1991, and both C and C++ have been around for many years.

In some areas, however, Java is already wildly popular. Earlier this year, another study found that the combination of Java and the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) is actually preferred over Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) by developers building component applications.

That study, by Forrester Research, polled 50 large companies and showed that using the combination of Java and CORBA was twice as popular as Microsoft's COM.

As previously reported, developers interviewed by CNET News.com said some of the reasons for Java's increasing popularity can be traced to the need to build Web-based e-commerce applications that span more than just Windows-based systems, the lure of greater financial rewards for Java programming skills, and a deep distrust of Microsoft's overall motives.

But Java is still maturing, Marshall said. "Java is a very ambitious project and some build-outs are still happening." For example, Sun just recently released a beta version of its next-generation Java standard for building server-based business software.

The Zona study found that, in the eyes of business developers, Java still has some significant shortcomings that Sun will need to address. Topping the list is performance speed, according to the 150 developers surveyed by Zona. Users have long complained about how slow Java applications run on the desktop. Sun plans to ship a faster version of Java for desktop applications in early 2000.

The other major concern among developers is the lack of a Java standard managed by an open-standards body. Currently, Sun is the arbiter of Java specifications and standards.

Other concerns include: Java's scalability, or the ability of Java applications to be expanded to keep pace with business growth, and migrating applications across all platforms. Despite Sun's early marketing claims of Java being a "write once, run anywhere" language, developers quickly found out that many times Java applications must be tailored for specific operating systems and browsers.

As Sun addresses developers' concerns, Zona and other market researchers, predict an uptick in Java's usage as more programmers complete training and a greater number of Java-based projects are completed.