loves it. C, Perl, Python, Smalltalk, and Lisp programmers love their
languages. I’ve never heard anyone say that they loved
I’m not so sure.
Googling for “I love java” gives 5,400 results. Adding the word
programming to the search1 yields
2,680 results. Not all sarcastic, surely. The results include “Why I
Love Java” and a page that says that, “it makes programming quick and
These numbers don’t tell us much. Anything as widespread as Java must
have some fans. We need something to compare with: ‘”I hate java”
programming’ gives 1,350 results. Java seems to be more loved than
hated, at least.
Paul Graham contrasts Java with C, Perl, Python and Smalltalk.
|“I love Java” programming||2,680|
|“I hate Java” programming||1,350|
|“I love C” programming||872|
|“I hate C” programming||506|
|“I love Perl” programming||1,720|
|“I hate Perl” programming||426|
|“I love Python” programming||1,330|
|“I hate Python” programming||46|
|“I love Smalltalk” programming||57|
|“I hate Smalltalk” programming||3|
|“I love Lisp” programming||185|
|“I hate Lisp” programming||77|
So Java can claim to be the “most loved”. By the better measure
of love/hate ratio Java does approximately as well as Lisp, and better
Old and New
It is the two most established languages2 that are
most hated: Java and
C. It is this establishment that is key. Because they are established
they are forced on programmers more often, not chosen. Because they are
forced they are hated. It is harder to hate a tool that you selected
than one that is forced on you.
Python is not so well established. It finds its
place in the fringes of organisations and in the open source
community. Where it is used, it is selected. If it is not
suited for a task, it tends not to be used. Because of its
age3, if a library or feature
is missing it will be excused as “coming soon”. If a library or
feature is missing in Java it is considered a serious shortcoming.
Older languages also have more visible shortcomings. When C was young it
was the most portable language in the world. Now we say that Java
solves some of those portability problems with far greater success;
similar claims can be made for Perl, PHP and others. Older
languages also have the problem that more bad code has been written in
them – you are more likely to have wrestled with someone else’s awful C
than someone else’s awful Python simply because you are far more likely
to have had to edit someone else’s C full stop.
Newer languages seem to be loved more. This might be because a missing
library or functionality in a new language can be excused more easily –
“Generics? We’re working on that.” Also a newer language will be known in
less depth by its average user and therefore its limits will be less well
known. The problems of C and C++ are so obvious to us because hundreds of
thousands of programmers have butted up against them numerous times.
There may be terrible limitations on Python but they are less well
When I wrote the first version of this article my
blog was quickly commented on by a
number of Ruby users all anxious to show that Ruby was the most loved
language. And the results for Ruby are spectacular (love: 1,450, hate: 13).
And Ruby became mainstream (if it can be said to have done so) very recently
It is not just that shortcomings become visible or inexcusable. The
state of the art does move on. Fortran is superior to Assembler5 and C is superior to Fortran. Perhaps it
will one day be possible to say that it is equally evident that Java is
better than C and Python is better than Java6. I suspect that these languages are too much
contemporaries for that distinction to ever be so clear.
Why Love Java?
Let’s look at what Java offers: portability, automatic garbage
collection, object orientation. Yes, Smalltalk offered the OO and the
GC in 1971 but never with such a large standard library and so many
tools, and with C-like syntax too.
If you were forced to work on somebody else’s complex C program
porting it to another OS whilst fixing memory leaks and then allowed to
switch to Java I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear you say the words,
“I love Java”.
A previous version of this article entitled
Programming Languages That Are Loved previously appeared on this site.
- We add the word programming to exclude coffee-related
- Smalltalk and Lisp are both much older than Java but it
would be difficult to argue that they are more established.
- Although Python was initially released in 1991 and Java in
1996 you can tell by the better measure of when they got their O’Reilly
books when they “hit primetime”:
Python in a Nutshell (1st Ed.)
Java in a Nutshell (1st ed.) 1996.
- Ruby in a Nutshell (Nov 2001) is one of three O’Reilly Ruby
books. By contrast Java has more than 150 and Python has 25.
- As a general purpose programming language.
- Not until after Python has a ternary if-else operatore
though, I hope.