Language wars

I don’t like language wars, for obvious reasons. But i just stumbled upon one that contains certain interesting bits. In particular, you can go right to the last post of Steve Yegge (the war’s initiator, in response to an Eckel’s provocation) and forget about the war: the article makes a series of interesting points when it comes to compare languages in their proper context. Here the war is between Python and Ruby, two languages which i know only superficially, so i will let you draw your own conclusions. But in that last article, you’ll find some interesting musings about Smalltalk’s (greatly exaggerated) death, what makes a language popular (are really the managers? or is it the engineer’s fault?), or the convenience of beign a polyglot. There are many good points. Nevertheless, i find Steve’s real reason to prefer Ruby really dissapointing:

But Ruby’s my favorite (as in “preferred”) language now because I can see the trajectory it’s on, especially now with Rails, and I believe it’s going to be the Next Big Thing — a Java-like phenomenon.

Many years ago, a person that i respect a lot gave me a piece of advice that i’ve tried to follow since then: never judge anything’s goodness or technical merits by its popularity. A much better metric when judging a language is, for instance, how much you can learn from it (a point beautifully made, for instance, in Jared Updike’s Learning from Haskell). In my opinion, Steve is falling precisely in the trap he’s denouncing. Still a good read, though.

2 Responses to “Language wars”

  1. Lopp Says:

    Absolutely. I saw this article linked from Tim Bray, but didn’t read it until your post here. Steve makes an incredibly strong, reasoned historical and personal account, and then fades with justification of his latest choice, as you say “falling precisely in the trap he’s denouncing”.

    That is, assuming he’s denouncing the broader culture that he identified so well in terms of engineers saying No and needing to enforce a small set of “approved” languages within their realm of influence (in particular, amongst their co-workers and employees). I really thought the article was going to denounce this entire social framework of “one language must win”.

    But mostly inspiring, just not for the conclusion. I figured (being a Python user, although someone who loves learning new languages) that I would be frustrated with his argument (and Ruby conclusion) because of some language comparison foible. Instead, I was wowed by his argument, until he left the argument behind to settle for the “next” status quo.

  2. rps Says:

    He wants to be able to use a decent language at work, where they’re not going to let him use oddballs like Scheme or Haskell. Unpopular languages essentially don’t exist fro him. Popularity is very important for his purposes.

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