Shahzad Bhatti

March 27, 2006

Nexus for next generation languages

Filed under: Computing — admin @ 7:39 am

Nexus for next generation languages
It’s said every ten to fifteen years you need a new programming language.
Today, Java is over ten years old and one of the most popular language.
Though, C# is another important language, but its design for most part is
similar to Java. A lot of people lately have been trying to find next
generation language. I bought Bruce Tate’s book “Beyond Java” hoping to
get some insight, but was somewhat disappointed as he only covered Ruby and
despite the fact he mentioned other languages like Lisp, Python, Smalltalk,
he didn’t really elaborated. Also, he ignored many other neat languages like
Haskell, Scala, PHP, Groovy. To some extent, a lot of these languages don’t
present fundamentally new idea, but extend a lot of ideas from 70s that were
first used in Lisp and later Smalltalk such as data-driven paradigm using
closures, functional programming, meta programming, and generics programming.
One of the battle going on between widely popular languages like Java/C# and
scripting languages is acceptance of scripting languages in large organizations
or in enterprise environment. Both James Gosling and James McGovern have been
trying to rip scripting languages for their lack of speed and lack of support
for enterprise environment. To some extent, there is truth to that, but as
most of the evangelists for the new scripting languages have been saying is
that not every organization needs sophisticated application servers, messaging
middlewares, EIS or ESB. One of interesting revelation came out in recent
symposium of theserverside, where Dian Almaer took survey of Rails in
production and only found one. Though, according to Mike Clark who was also
there said there were about four. It clearly shows that most people are
looking for bridge to connect with scripting languages.
I think one of the biggest effect of scripting
languages is emphasis on simplicity. It doesn’t matter if Fortune 500 can’t
use these scripting languages due to their complexed environment, but rest of
tens of thousand organizations from small and medium size can greatly get
benefit from them.

One of biggest barrier in acceptance of these scripting languages is lack
of Nexus. If we look at last twenty years, the new languages become widely
popular only when they created powerful nexus between existing language and
the new language. It’s sort of like hand-off from old-generation Star Trek
to new-generation Star Trek. For example, despite the fact C++ was object-oriented, but it accepted C syntax and allowed programmers to slowly adapt to it.
Similarly, Java’s syntax was very similar to C++ and despite the fact that
it was complete object-oriented, it used primitive types to give some compfort
to C++ programmers. This is why next generation language needs a nexus. I
thought Groovy might create that nexus for Java, but was very disappointed.
I like Ruby a lot, but I wish JRuby could be fully compatible and would be
able to run all libraries and frameworks like Rails. This is one of the reason,
I like Scala a lot, because it offers a lot of benefits of data-flow based
programming similar to Lisp, Ruby or Smalltalk, functional programming
similar to Haskell and full Generics support. On top of it, it can run both
on .NET’s CLR and Java’s VM. Unfortunately, it hasn’t got much attention as
other scripting languages like Ruby or Python.

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