Often the faster an algorithm can be put into the market, the more advantage it has. Many algorithms have a shelf life and quicker time to market is key in taking advantage of that. With the community around Java and the options available, it can definitely be a competitive advantage, as opposed to C or C++ where the options may not be as broad for the use case. Sometimes, though, pure low latency can rule out other concerns. I think currently, the difference in performance between Java and C++ is so close that it's not a black and white decision based solely on speed. Improvements in GC techniques, JIT optimizations, and managed runtimes have made traditional Java weaknesses with respect to performance into some very compelling strengths that are not easy to ignore.
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twofishy writes: Something I've noticed amongst financial service companies in London is a growing use of Java in preference to c/c++ for exchange systems, High Frequency Trading and over low-latency work. InfoQ has a good written panel discussion with Peter Lawrey, Martin Thompson, Todd L. Montgomery and Andy Piper. From the article: