From PHP to Perl: What's hot, what's not in scripting languages

Scripting languages now do 'real' programming -- so the race is on to get developers on board with just-in-time compilers and other advanced tools

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The first, HTML5, relies on JavaScript to move things around on the page; because of this, programmers are getting better at using browser-based JavaScript to catch up with what Flash programmers used to do. Sprites and animations that were once the main advantage of ActionScript are relatively simple to set up in HTML5. Every convert to HTML5 is reading and writing JavaScript, not ActionScript.

The iPhone remains a challenge for Adobe and ActionScript lovers. Apple's long resistance to the platform means that ActionScript authors can't write ActionScript and expect it to work in the iPhone's browser. Of course, that doesn't mean the platform is completely closed. The clever programmers at Adobe built a "packager" that turns the ActionScript in Flex and AIR bundles into something that runs in a native app.

Will this be enough? A startup called Ansca also makes Corona, a framework for building iPhone apps that uses Lua, a language the company promotes as being very close to ActionScript. The ideas live on even if they're not called exactly the same name.

Not-hot scripting language: Perl

This former giant laid the foundation of some of the best sites on the Web -- one of several accomplishments that earned Perl its worthy comparison to duct tape. Slashdot, the trendsetting blog, was coded in Perl more than 14 years ago. As the website grew, and stayed up, people began to realize that C++ was not the only way to write fast code.

But a decade is a long time for any scripting language, and there are vastly different personalities in the Internet development game now. Perl is hobbled by its cryptic syntax, causing many to call it the assembly code of the '90s. One Slashdot insider confirmed that the code base is still written in Perl before pausing and adding, "And AJAX." Many of the new features run in the browser using JavaScript.

There are numerous practical indicators of Perl's fading from its heyday, but one of the most prominent may have been the lack of success for MovableType. The tool was one of the first content management systems, but its first-mover enthusiasm didn't translate into a flood of plug-ins. Some might point to MovableType's architecture, but Perl should share some of the blame. Other CMSes, like WordPress, get 35 times as many searches on Google Trends. Is it any wonder why people are spending plenty of time on the forums asking how to embed PHP code inside a MovableType template?

The long downward trend is also found in searches for the language itself. The word "perl" may be one-tenth as trendy on Google as it was only eight years ago. (Search results are normalized according to worldwide traffic, so the rise in overall traffic exaggerates the dip.)

To make matters worse, it's harder and harder to find the latest State of the Onion talks online. In the early years, these discussions were touchstones for developers, with some enthusiasts reading them like dispatches from the Kremlin to decipher hidden indications about how the next version of Perl might behave. Others read them for the jokes, which Larry Wall, Perl's creator, includes in a way that is not very Kremlinesque. No one seems to have transcribed them, and furtive searches reveal little. To make matters worse, sites like Perl.org don't even seem to offer search.

Hot scripting language: Python

In a sense, the tipping point for Python came when the housing market crashed.

For those stuck trying to decode bond market prospectuses to figure out who got paid what when the bankruptcy dominoes were done falling, one thing became clear: English is a weaselly language, and some weaselly folks revel in its ambiguities to profit from complicated derivatives.

Enter one smart group that offered a compelling solution: Force every bond to come with a Python program that defined who got paid and when they were paid. While they may have been a bit too hopeful about the power of computer languages, the proposal spoke to Python's growing acceptance in the greater world of smart people who aren't computer geeks. Relatively easy to pick up, Python is becoming increasingly popular in economic research, science departments, and biology labs.

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