This week's book giveaway is in the OO, Patterns, UML and Refactoring forum. We're giving away four copies of Refactoring for Software Design Smells: Managing Technical Debt and have Girish Suryanarayana, Ganesh Samarthyam & Tushar Sharma on-line! See this thread for details.
When you assign generics like that, you have to match the generic type exactly.
Here's why it's not allowed like that. You've created a list that should only be able to accept HashMaps (probably not what you want, but let's pretend it is). But then you've assigned it to a reference that suggests it should be able to add any sort of Map. So the compiler would then allow you to add, say, a Hashtable. And because the generic types don't exist at runtime, there'd be no error. So you've lost the type-safety that you thought you had.
It's exactly the same reason that you can't go:
The second approach you've used is the correct one.