Java is one of the most widely adopted programming languages, used by some 9 million developers and running on 7 billion devices worldwide.

There are lots of reasons a large company (the type to go for enterprise solutions) would pick Java. Note I’m not saying all these reasons are correct or valid. But the relevant point is that they appear valid to a CTO at MegaCorp.

Learning Curve

Java is a simple language without much of the flexibility of other members of the C family, this cuts both ways, but it is seen as a straightforward language for use by an army of programmers. Enterprise projects tend to involve large numbers of developers (rightly or wrongly) and it is much easier to get a developer to a minimum level of competence in Java than C++. You also have a whole generation of graduates who have probably been largely schooled in Java.

Choice

Java has a vast array of libraries, frameworks, tools and IDEs, and server providers. To an enterprise its good to have choice, even if that’s just for use as a bargaining chip when negotiating price. The language lends itself to code quality tools that allow enforcement of corporate standards (and as mentioned there are a lot of those tools).

Platform Independence

Java is write once, run (well, debug) everywhere. Sun has actively encouraged open standards that allow multiple vendors to implement their solutions. These standards give the customer the comfort that they can migrate from one vendor to another if a given vendor goes under or starts charging more. Of course the reality is that each vendor does their best to provide some “added value” features that tie the customer to them quite nicely.

Maturity

Its been around a long time, running a lot of servers. If your web application needs to be “6 sigma” or similar and you are the MegaCorp CTO, you are not going to look that kindly on Joe the developer wanting to do it in RoR.

Timing/Marketing

Java came out when programming was moving towards the web. It was positioned cleverly and got a strong position early in web development. Because of the open standards, there are some very big companies producing these platforms and they market Java pretty hard to sell those platforms.

Inertia

Large corporations move forward at a glacial pace (a lot are still using Java 1.4 five years after 5 was released), so once they’ve picked Java, it takes a massive investment to move to another platform. With each day that goes by they’re cranking out more Java that would need to be migrated. Most of these companies are not primarily coding shops, so it is a very hard sell to convince the business to spend a few tens of millions rewriting their entire code base for no immediate business benefit.

Another reason might be the care Sun has taken to keep Java backwards compatible. The vast majority of Java code can be run on the latest version of the JVM without a problem. That is quite an achievement, given the age of Java. On the other hand you might argue Java has not changed all that much in all these years.

Enterprises like stability in a platform.