Java or C++ ?

i believe in honesty, not advocacy, and the honest answer is that there is no single answer. What is the organization’s policy regarding languages? Must there be one and only one official language? What is the skill level of the staff?

Are they gung-ho developers with advanced degrees in computer science/engineering or people who understand the business and have survival skills in software? Do they already have OO skills? In which language(s)? What sort of software development is being done: extending someone else’s framework or building from scratch for resale? What sort of performance constraints does the software have? Is it space constrained or speed constrained? If speed, is it typically bound by I/O, network, or CPU? Regarding libraries and tools, are there licensing considerations? Are there strategic partnership relationships that affect the choice of languages? Many of these questions are nontechnical, but they are the kind of questions that need to be answered before the “which language” issue can be addressed.

Regarding the choice between C++ and Java, Java is a simpler language and thus it is generally easier to use. However C++ is more established and allows finer control over resources (for example, memory management), and this is required for some applications. Also, C++ has language features such as destructors, conversion operators and operator overloading that can be intimidating to many developers but are essential for building frameworks that hide complexity from users. Building the same framework in Java will necessarily expose some internal complexity to the developers who need to extend the framework. So C++ will always be needed, but it isn’t the only answer and it isn’t always the best answer.

The messages can be summarized neatly. (1) Avoid language bigotry and language wars. (2) Never, never present language trade-offs to management exclusively using technical criteria—when choosing between languages, the most important issues are typically business issues, not technical issues. (3) Don’t assume that the organization wants to be on the leading edge. (4) Don’t assume that the organization has a primary goal of furthering the careers of its developers.

5 thoughts on “Java or C++ ?

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