Old 5th November 2007, 21:12   #1
Omega X
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Future of JavaScript: Mozilla Vs. Microsoft

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post...scripting.html
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The process of creating ECMAScript 4—the next-generation JavaScript dialect—has become increasingly acrimonious as major stakeholders argue about the future of web scripting. The latest feud is between JavaScript creator Brendan Eich and Microsoft representative Chris Wilson, who have differing views about the long-term viability of the ECMAScript standard.

The vast majority of web developers acknowledge that JavaScript in its current form is anachronistic compared to modern dynamic scripting languages. The ECMAScript 4 draft process hopes to resolve weaknesses with the language by adding additional syntax elements, many of which are heavily influenced by Java and Python. ECMAScript 4 is largely backwards compatible with conventional JavaScript, which means that it provides a clean glidepath for updating legacy code.

Critics like Microsoft and Yahoo argue that certain characteristics of the language (particularly the prototype-oriented object model) make it impossible to add modern language features to ECMAScript without dramatically increasing the complexity of the language, breaking existing code, and creating new interoperability problems. Such critics believe that the focus should be on improving interoperability between existing ECMAScript 3 implementations and that modern scripting capabilities would be best provided by using a completely different scripting language.

Although this approach could provide a cleaner language for web scripting, it would mean that all existing JavaScript code would be trapped forever in the ECMAScript 3 standard and would have to be completely rewritten in order to benefit from much-needed modern language features. There are also serious concerns that new alternative languages would be less standards-oriented than ECMAScript.

"[T]he ES4 proposal introduces a lot of new language functionality that essentially changes the character of the language," wrote Wilson in a recent blog entry. "I don't personally have a problem with that language as a language—but I think grafting that different-in-character-language together with a compatible-and-performant implementation of the Javascript of today is both super-hard (if even possible) to get right, and is ignoring the bigger problems of language-for-web, namely interoperating with all the script that is out there."
The accusations fly

Wilson and other critics have complained that their concerns are being suppressed and ignored by Brendan Eich and others. Several participants in the ES4-discuss mailing list claim that Adobe and Mozilla are authoring the spec in a manner that best suits their interests without consensus and that other parties are simply shouted down or ignored.

"I think it's a shame that dissenting opinion has been hidden from view, and not publicized," said Wilson. "I also think it's a shame that the response to any dissent has equated to shouting the dissenters down. The string of blog posts over the last week, and the immediate and somewhat incendiary comments from ES4 proponents, has been a good example of that."

Eich and those who are satisfied with the current process and direction regard those allegations as FUD—baseless nontechnical criticisms that add nothing of value to the ECMASCript 4 process. In an open letter to Chris Wilson, Eich criticizes Wilson and accuses him of dishonesty.

"You seem to be repeating falsehoods in blogs since the Proposed ECMAScript 4th Edition Language Overview was published, claiming dissenters including Microsoft were ignored by me, or 'shouted down' by the majority, in the ECMAScript standardization group. Assuming you didn't know better, and someone was misinforming you, you (along with everyone reading this letter) know better now. So I'll expect to see no more of these lies spread by you," wrote Eich in his open letter to Wilson. "At best, we have a fundamental conflict of visions and technical values between the majority and the minority... There certainly was no shouting down of the dissenters—that's a bold lie in view of the well-attended and friendly dinners sponsored by the face-to-face meeting hosts."
A way forward?

Although Microsoft representatives haven't stated outright what they would propose for a new web scripting solution, the writing is pretty much on the wall. Microsoft's Silverlight rich Internet application framework uses .NET and the Dynamic Language Runtime, which brings support for IronPython and IronRuby to web scripting. Using languages based on Python and Ruby for next-generation client-side scripting solutions makes a lot of sense on many different levels. A growing number of developers already have experience with those languages and many tools already exist to ease development with them. A single multilanguage runtime could be used in the browser to support JavaScript as well as more modern scripting languages.

Mozilla has already tacitly endorsed this approach with its own (prodigiously cool) IronMonkey project, which aims to build a bridge between Microsoft's open-source Dynamic Language Runtime and Mozilla's Tamarin virtual machine, which will be used to run ECMAScript 4 code. When we reported on IronMonkey back in July, more than a few Ars readers posted comments expressing a desire for a future in which client-side web scripting could be done entirely with Python and Ruby rather than with JavaScript.

As a developer with experience in Python, Ruby, and JavaScript myself, I know that I would definitely prefer Python and Ruby to a new dialect of JavaScript that liberally incorporates features of those languages. That said, it is worth noting that advancing JavaScript with the ECMAScript 4 standard as envisioned by Mozilla and Adobe doesn't preclude the possibility of adopting multilanguage web scripting platforms.

The real question is whether or not it still makes sense to extend ECMAScript regardless of whether or not alternate languages are made available as well. Eich argues that ECMAScript 4 is important for furthering standards-based web scripting, but critics are still concerned that extending ECMAScript in the manner proposed by Eich will fail to address critical security and interoperability issues while putting backwards compatibility at risk. Eich still doesn't believe that anybody has adequately articulated these problems in a way that shows real concern about the technical merits of ECMAScript 4.

Meanwhile, parties on both sides of the debate are becoming increasingly accusatory and have taken to publicly criticizing each other's motives. Web scripting needs to move forward, and it's unfortunate that the process has become mired in controversy.
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Seems like a lot of miscommunication.
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Old 5th November 2007, 23:35   #2
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I am not a huge fan of a lot of the new additions to Javascript; I agree in quite a large part with the opinion that they're overcomplicating the language, and JS already has a confused syntactic/semantic matching, adding more features which further muddy this is likely to just make it worse.

JavaScript is a lot more misunderstood than it is genuinely bad, but considering how poor its interoperability is now, I'm not sure that significantly complicating the language (in ways tangential to its original design, no less!) is a very good solution.

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Old 6th November 2007, 18:11   #3
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Brendan Eich goes into detail about keeping as much compatibility as possible.

http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/roadm...d_opinion.html
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Old 6th November 2007, 20:14   #4
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The discussion on Lambda the Ultimate (one of my favourite sites, but I am a programming language nerd) is quite interesting, as well.

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Old 7th November 2007, 19:28   #5
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Heh, that discussion seems to be the exact same back and forth that the original fight started with.

I'm not a programmer(I can read some languages somewhat but just don't ask me to write it.) so I will not try to understand why some specifics in JS2 is a bad thing. From the outside looking it, it looks like some just don't want JS to move forward even if most compatibility with earlier JS is kept.
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Old 7th November 2007, 23:30   #6
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I think that it's their justifications for not moving JS forward that are most interesting, though. In a lot of ways, if one is going to practically replace JS with a completely different language, one might as well actually replace it with a different language. The new proposals involve wedging an entirely new paradigm into an existing, convoluted, poorly-supported standard, which is probably not a great way to proceed. It's tempting to just upgrade what's there (especially when most of Mozilla's own interfaces are written in the language), but at some point having a fresh, new language (or even an existing one; Python and Ruby are both powerful, modern languages that could be adapted) with the features one wants and keeping the existing JS interpreter around for existing pages becomes just as compelling.

Of course another problem is that all of the parties have some part in the future of these technologies. MS have Silverlight, Adobe have Flash/Flex/AIR, and Mozilla's Brendan Eich is the original creator of JavaScript.

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