I'm self-studying python, and more advanced python programmers have pointed out to me that I'm learning an obsolete instruction set and the use of obsolete tools thanks to being taught about an old version of python rather than the most current one. The website where I'm self-studying also offers chances to study javascript, html and other languages. I'm really eager to learn java because it looks like it would fit my aptitudes for presentation and user interface a lot better than python does, but I'm worried about what might happen if I learn an outdated version of java and have to upgrade my skills later.

So I have a few questions. First, can you tell me, in terms a junior-level python programmer can understand, how javascript relates to java? (I'm guessing that javascript is one language available for writing code for java interpreters, but from my own research that's not totally clear). Second, how can I check whether what I'm learning is obsolete or up to date? Third, specifically with regard to java, how hard is it to cut your teeth on an obsolete version and then upgrade your skills to the current one--is it a lot harder than just learning the current one from a blank slate? Ideally, I'd like to be proficient at writing code that is as backwards-compatible and back-portable as possible, but if being able to do it means going through heck becoming able to use the latest command set and tools, I can settle for knowing only the latest stuff.

Thanks to everybody for your input.

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how javascript relates to java: not at all. maybe the same way a bycicle relates to a Boeing 747: they're both transportvehicles, or, in our case, they're both languages you can write code in: javascript, as the name itself says, is a scripting language, while java is a programming language.
checking what you learn is up to date: if you buy a book, don't buy one that was written in 1994. Chances are you are studying antiques. Buy a decent book and the latest version, follow some blogs about what developers are talking about, check the job ads what frameworks companies are interrested in. you'll clearly see that, for instance, EJB 1 has been long time replaced, and that Spring has more and more come into the picture.
my advice: don't go studying the older stuff. start off with a decent and up to date JDK, or you might try and learn tuff that isn't possible yet in the version you use, or, you 'll start spending a lot of time on learning things that are replaced by better implementations.

javascript != java; My advise for learning java is to start with the basics and build from there. If you have programmed in some other language, then you should be able to get caught up quickly. There are a lot of fundimental things about java thaat haven't changed over the years. Get a good book with lots of examples.

There were significant changes in Jav at version 1.5, so anything older than that is not a good idea. The changes from 1.5 to the current 1.7 are useful, but not earth-shattering. But for reasonsof security fixes you should download/install only the latest version form Oracle.
The tutorials on the Oracle site areexcellent, and fully updated for the latest version of thelanguage and API.

Can you recommend a very simple Javascript sandbox that I can use to type in short bits of code, save them to the appropriate file extension, and then test run and debug them? The IDEs I've seen so far are too full-featured and complex for a beginner.

There are a couple IDEs that are very simple, so it won't be too overwhelming for beginners (and I like to code w/o relying on a belt & whistle IDE either). One is JGrasp which is quite good. Another one is TextPad which is supposed to be a text-editor program but can add java compiler option to it.

Nevertheless, you need to have JavaSE installed in your computer before you can do programming (for compiling purpose).

Thanks, Taywin! :) I already had the JRE installed, but also installed the JDK just in case. Then I downloaded and installed both jGrasp and TextPad. (Incidentally, the links in your post just open this thread, not the pages where you can download those programs.)

I've created a test Javascript script in TextPad and am trying to figure out how to run it. I think my problem is that TextPad automatically adds a .txt extension to every file you save, so that I have to go into the preferences and modify that first, then find some way to Save As my file as a pure .jre file.

I note that jGrasp has a new alpha release that also supports Python, which would be great for me, as I also like to sandbox Python scripts, except that there's no way in heck I'm gonna install an alpha release of anything on my Win 7 system. I'll have to look for a Python IDE somewhere else.

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