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Aging of the Independent C-Derived Open Source Programming Languages

astorm

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I’ve been wondering lately about the future of languages like ruby, python, PHP, and (to a lesser extent) Node.js. These are languages that launched in the 1990s (except for Node.js) and were adopted widely despite not having a large vendor behind them.

The development, maintenance, and promotion of Java and .NET are backed by Oracle and Microsoft. A lot of people are paid a lot of money to keep these platforms up to date and relevant. PHP, ruby, python and Node.js don’t have this direct company backing.

PHP is run by a small cabal of folks who vote on features with an even smaller subset of those people doing the work.

The Ruby community isn’t a place I’ve spent a lot of time, but it seems like there’s a Ruby-Core mailing list and then a handful of select folks with commit access to https://git.ruby-lang.org/ruby.git.

Python and Node.js are both in the hands of foundations — the Python Foundation for python, and (as of this writing) the OpenJS foundation (which is a sub-foundation of the Linux Foundation?) for Node.js. Also, the Node.js javascript engine, V8, is not a part of any foundation. It’s open source code distributed by Google Inc.

These programming language platforms came to prominence in the early days of the web because they were easier to use than the crusty (yet, we’re told, high performant) languages from the 70s/80s and were unencumbered by the interests of billion dollar technology companies. Their creators and maintainers worked on them, in part, because they created opportunities for both personal and career growth.

Many of the original folks behind these languages are reaching the middle, or even end, of their careers and while they (or their inheritors) have created functioning open source projects I see many of these projects struggling to keep up with the expectations of their users. Without wanting to draw attention to any specific person, when core project members get on social media and scold their communities for not contributing more it’s never a sign things are going great.

It’s clear these languages will be with us for years to come, but what they look like remains extremely cloudy. A younger me would probably shrug at this and say open source means it’ll all work out in the end — but older me wonders how messy all that working out will be and what happens as the most interested folks start to age out of working on the platforms.

Copyright © Alan Storm 1975 – 2021 All Rights Reserved

Originally Posted: 14th June 2021