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Back then (in 2004) the complexity merchant of choice was J2EE.

I understand, that merchant is a person, who sells something. I assume that "merchant of choice" is somebody, from who we decide to buy something. So "complexity merchant of choice" is somebody, from who we buy complexity. That doesn't make sense, even in a figurative sense.

J2EE is Java 2 Enterprise Edition and the quote is taken from the text about programming languages and frameworks.

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    I would understand it to be sardonic. The merchant you would choose if you wanted a solution which was (overly) complex was .... As if they were peddling complexity, not solutions. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 25 '17 at 18:13
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This makes a little more sense in context

While we’ve seen a lot a progress in the JavaScript world, we’ve also seen a regression to the complexity-laden world that Rails offered refuge from in the early days. Back then (in 2004) the complexity merchant of choice was J2EE.

What he means is, in 2004, the source of complex frameworks was J2EE. It is meant sarcastically. No one would "buy" complexity from anyone, but in some sense people were doing just that because of how common Java was. So he's personifying J2EE as a "complexity merchant" that sells people overly complex solutions.

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    Thanks for the clarification. I had no idea what they were trying to say with "complexity merchant". In the programming world J2EE is a bit of a running joke used to punctuate examples of extremely complicated ways to implement very simple programs, i.e. HelloWorldFactory, HelloWorldFactoryInstance, etc. – Andrew Jan 25 '17 at 18:43
  • @Andrew I deal with Java's bs on a daily basis, so I know how it goes. – mstorkson Jan 25 '17 at 21:11

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