Developers Face Languages Renaissance

A programming guru says a new wave of programming languages is on the way over the next five years.

LAS VEGAS-The computing industry is ripe for a new phase of programming languages over the next five years, said a language expert at TheServerSide Java Symposium.

"We stand on the threshold of a renaissance in programming languages," said Ted Neward, founder of Neward & Associates, during a keynote here March 27.

Neward, a Java enthusiast and a coder in the .Net environment, dynamic languages and Web technologies said the industry is in a period of renewed interest in using, building and exploring and discovering programming languages.

"The point is, we're not done, because there are a number of challenges coming up that we can't solve with our current set of languages and tools," he said.

Top among those challenges is the issue of concurrency and developing applications that run in parallel processing environments, Neward said. The event had an entire track dedicated to speed, high-performance computing and issues of handling concurrency in programs. Through a series of questions Neward challenged the audience on whether they were equipped to write quality code for concurrent systems. With each question, the number of hands raised dwindled down to but a few.

Other challenges that Neward said stretch the capacity of current programming languages and tools include application security, object security, pure object model drawbacks, distribution and services, user enablement and user interface expression.

He said Java was not designed for broadly multithreaded environments. He also said that despite advancements with Web services and technologies like Enterprise JavaBeans and Enterprise Service Buses, "we still didn't solve our distribution problem."

However, the language renaissance has begun. "It's a programming language feast," Neward said, citing a long list of popular languages. "It's easier than ever to design your own language."

Historically, programming languages have been split between practitioners and academics: Practitioners want to take the technology and put it to use for business and other purposes, while academics typically want to perfect the technology in their "ivory towers," Neward said. For the most part, the two groups have been disinterested in one another, he said.

"It takes a long time for stuff to find its way out of the ivory tower," Neward said, noting how object-oriented technology started in academia but took some time reaching the mainstream developer world. Yet, "almost all languages started in academia" or research labs, he said, pointing to OCaml, Scheme, Erlang, Scala and F#.

Something had to spark a change in direction. That spark, said Neward, came from Gregor Kiczales and his team from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, who created AOP (aspect-oriented programming).

"What Gregor did is he forced all of us to stop thinking that we were done with languages," Neward said. "For years we'd been living in this object bubble. Then we realized there was something beyond objects. Gregor started up a very important discussion."

He said the industry now is moving toward language-oriented programming and finding new uses for virtualization technology. Neward also encouraged the audience of primarily Java developers to look at other languages being supported on the Java Virtual Machine and even on top of the .Net platform.

"Look to enhancements on the languages you use," Neward said. "Look to use new languages being created, and look to create your own new languages."