Dynamic programming futures

JavaScript, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, and other dynamic languages are remaking the Web and bringing programming to the masses. Where should developers place their bets?

The power of the dominant applications is apparent to everyone. Facebook even calls its scripting language FBJS (Facebook JavaScript) because it's so site-specific.

But there are limits to this cross-pollination. "I don't see this lasting because it's so specific," said David Goodger, a director of Python Software Foundation. "A lot of graphics packages had their own proprietary language for scripting. But then it's this static thing. You don't have the advantage of this vibrant community. If you take this language like Python, you have the advantage of this well-developed tool with the well-developed libraries. You've got the best of all possible worlds."

Still, even if the applications embrace a 100 percent pure version of a language, all of the code will be dominated by the application's API. Look for languages and their syntax to remain relatively pure while the libraries define another language built on top of the first.

4. Communities will be more important. As Goodger notes, Python is especially popular in a few niches, such as the world of bioinformatics and graphics. People who work with synthetic images or DNA results learn Python to do their job. Even if Python dies everywhere else, biochemists are probably still going to be learning Python.

The power of these communities is phenomenal. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, everyone began looking for Cocoa programmers again. Mike Hendrickson, the publisher at O'Reilly Books, said, "We've seen a huge turnaround for Cocoa. It was all but gone a couple of years ago. Now, there's a huge, huge increase in Cocoa because a lot of people want to develop their cool apps for the iPhone."

If Steve Jobs decides that some unary lambda calculus is the language of choice for the iPhone 4.0, the developer community is going to find a way to rationalize his selection and talk about how much they love the language.

5. The Web and the cloud are the ultimate platform. Google's App Engine sparked a huge burst of interest in Python. Perl and PHP were early favorites because they were so well integrated with Apache, a Web server that was both free and easy to configure. Tomorrow's scripting languages of choice will be determined more by the simplicity, cost, and scalability of the hosting platform, not by the purity of the syntactic sugar. Look for such tools as AppJet and Coghead by selling a cloud with a simple scripting language for building the application.

6. Better language technology will make a difference. The battle for supremacy between Mozilla's Firefox ("JavaScript, I am your father") and Google's Chrome ("Come live in thread harmony, Luke") is good for everyone. The performance gains these browsers have brought to JavaScript have been dramatic, and they're already making some other scripting languages jealous.

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