I was listening to the JavaPosse a minute ago. Dick Wall is saying that he figures there is never going to be anything as big as Java ever again.
A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a discussion between a couple of people involved in the music business. They concluded that the days of the megastars are officially over; they didn't think there would ever be another artist rising to the same levels of stardom as Madonna, Elvis, Michael Jackson or the Beatles.
The Music Industry
The reason why these people from the music industry figured there'd never be anything as big as the artists mentioned, ever again, is because of the Internet. It just has never been as easy as it is today to share music. I can put something together in an afternoon, and have it available on Bandcamp or Facebook that same night. And if it's any good, it will spread like wildfire.
But, hold on, it has not only become way easier to put something out there on the Internet. It also became much easier to pull something down from the Internet. I recently switched over to Spotify. Even though I have a convenient setup that allows me to listen to my (legally acquired) MP3 all over my place, I haven't touched it since then. And before that, I tried Last.fm for a while and found a load of new artists. The collection of music I listen to has grown significantly, last year. (As an example, I found about the "Wifi?" song through Facebook. A song right from the heart for many of us, I'm sure.)
Back in the days, both the artist and the listener depended on the record labels to tie supply to demand. That basically acted as a big funnel. In went all artists, out came the ones that were most likely to generate a lot of money. For a record label, it made way more sense to have one world-famous artist, than having several targeting a smaller audience. Because of that, some artists got all the exposure (radio, TV) and others hardly any at all.
The Internet has changed that. It basically short circuited this relationship, and boosted the supply.
The Software Industry
Let's assume for a while that there is some truth in all of this. I can imagine that marketing funding has contributed a lot to putting some artists in the spotlight, and keeping others out in the dark. That seems to be exactly what happened to Java as well; only this time it wasn't one single vendor, but a lot of them; and the same goes for SQL. (IBM, Sun, Hewlett Packard, Sybase, Oracle, etc.)
That doesn't mean Java is awful or SQL is a piece of crap. Au contraire. It just means that because of critical mass of these big corporations, Java got more visibility, and therefore more momentum than any of its competitors.
It's interesting that Java may actually both have profited and 'suffered' from the Internet. Java's appearance coincided with the rise of the Internet. The first people enthusiastic about Java liked it because of its Internet potential. (I remember my boss at Sun saying that, one day, his friend passed by and showed him Java tooth tumbling inside an Applet; that's the day he applied for a job at Sun.)
These were probably also the people who started to talk about their ideas on how to use Java in new ways. Java dates from 1995. Sourceforge from 1999; it now provides a home for 45,186 Java projects. (And remember, they got some competition since then: Github, Java.net, Codehaus, Apache, etc.) At OOPSLA 2004, in Vancouver, all posters where about Java, with the exception of the ones that were not about programming at all. Sharing has been the basic attitude of the Java world, and that - I feel - contributed a lot to its popularity.
So, the genie is out of the bottle. People got used to polyglot programming, and no marketing budget will ever be able to make any more noise than the buzz coming from the community directly. Again, it's not unlike the demise of the music industry. The Internet short circuited supply-demand both in the music industry as well as in the software industry.
And alternatives to Java on the Java VM are not the exception. The same goes for storage solutions. Back in the days, the only real option for storing your data used to be a SQL database. (In fact, in many cases, the only option used to be Oracle or DB2.) But since then, people started to scratch their head, wondering how on earth SQL solutions would solve their scalability problems, and came up with other, sometimes simpler ways to store their data. And then, they spread it through the Internet.
In summary, it seems our world is coming to a joint conclusion that Java and SQL are no longer the only options out there. Phew! That's a breeze of fresh air! I therefore declare this year to be the year to celebrate the "No" movement: NoSQL (Not only SQL), NoJAVA (Not only Java) and - well - basically No[you name it] (Not only 'you name it'). Back in the days, all we had was NoCHOICE. But now we have. Let's take advantage of that.
The image that pops up in my head when I think about NoSQL and alternative languages on the Java VM (and the music industry) is one of a lava lamp. Down at the bottom, you see blobs of wax trying to cut loose to make their escape. Often they get pulled back, only to settle back at the bottom and wait for a new opportunity to make their way. It sort of reminds me of the big corporations and monumental industry standards preventing creative ideas to escape. But now, the old industry seems to loose its grip. The knot is slipping. Many bright ideas managed to cut themselves loose and have crossed the chasm. It's unlikely that anything will be able to pull them back now. Welcome to 2011. Up, up, and away!
(And for that reason, it might also be good to mention the NoSQL NL meetup scheduled for January 24, the Dutch Scala Enthusiasts, and the Clojure meetup. If you want to learn more about your options, it might be good to drop by somewhere soon.)