Is It Time for JavaScript to Step Aside for the Next Big 'Web' Thing?

A group of computer language experts discuss the future of programming, from JavaScript to Google's new Dart, to the strengths and perils of functional programming at Microsoft's Lang.Next.

REDMOND, Wash. €” What do you get when you put a group of computer language geeks in one room and ask them about programming? Well, it seems one thing is a general complaint about one of the most popular languages in use today: JavaScript.

At the Lang.Next conference here, a panel of experts discussed everything programming and while they disagreed on several things, they seemed to come to agreement that JavaScript is a gnarly, unforgiving language that is a necessity in today€™s world.

The panelists included Microsoft€™s Anders Hejlsberg, best known as the creator of Turbo Pascal, Borland€™s Delphi and Microsoft€™s C#. Martin Odersky, founder, chairman and chief architect at Typesafe and creator of the Scala language was also a part of the panel. Gilad Bracha, creator of the Newspeak programming language and a member of the team building the new Dart language at Google also sat on the panel. And rounding out the panel was Peter Alvaro, a fourth-year computer science Ph.D. student at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the team building the Bloom programming language for the cloud and other distributed computing systems. Microsoft software architect and language geek Eric Meijer moderated the panel.

Hejlsberg said his goal in building languages and tools is and always has been to make programmers more productive. He noted that while concurrency has been a big thing in the minds of developers for some time, he believes the next big thing is machine learning.

However, Hejlsberg added; €œJava used to be cross-platform but is no longer cross-platform; the new cross-platform language in town is JavaScript.€

Goaded by Meijer as to whether it is possible to write big programs in JavaScript, Hejlsberg replied, €œYes, you can, but you can€™t maintain them," much to the delight of the crowd that featured several prominent language and tools designers. €œI think there are some unmet needs there,€ Hejlsberg added.

Bracha immediately piped in saying, €œThat€™s part of why we€™re doing Dart. You can write them [large programs in JavaScript]; it€™s terribly hard and afterward you€™ll be punished.€

Google introduced an early preview of Dart, which the company refers to as a class-based optionally typed programming language for building Web applications, in October 2011. Google announced the Dart preview at the Goto Conference in Aarhus, Denmark, where Google engineers Lars Bak and Bracha presented an opening keynote for the event Oct. 10.

In an Oct. 10 blog post, Bak said Dart€™s design goals are to create a structured yet flexible language for Web programming, make Dart feel familiar and natural to programmers and thus easy to learn, and to ensure that Dart delivers high performance on all modern Web browsers and environments ranging from small handheld devices to server-side execution.

€œThat€™s why we€™re doing Dart,€ Bracha said. €œWe feel in some ways we should get back to 1995€”we want libraries and abstractions and to not have to worry about the quirks of this document format that€™s taken over the world.€