One of the more interesting new additions comes from Microsoft itself. Axum is a language designed to make it easier to write programs that work well on today's multicore, multiprocessing hardware. You may recall that last year I wrote about Fortress, a language with similar aims from Sun Microsystems. What makes Axum interesting, however, is that instead of trying to duplicate all the features of systems programming languages such as Java or C++, it focuses exclusively on parallelism. You can't even define an object in it; you do that in some other CLI language, such as C#. All Axum does is simplify the job of making applications multiprocessing-friendly -- a task that's often grueling in traditional languages.
Following the .Net platform's lead, the JVM is opening up as well. A variety of languages are now available that compile to Java bytecode, and some of them are pretty interesting. One that has gained a cult following is Groovy, which offers a Java-like syntax but is actually a dynamic language, similar to Perl, Python, and Ruby. It gives developers the safety and stability of the Java runtime but frees them from the often-restrictive Java syntax.
Other languages diverge from existing platforms, but have gained limited acceptance in commercial applications. Lua, for example, is a lightweight, embeddable scripting language that has found a number of niche uses, including video game development. It's in World of Warcraft, among others.
Success outside the mainstream
For the most part, these offbeat languages can be found only in niche uses, small projects, and research. But not every enterprise is so staid that it can't look past Java and C++. For example, microblogging pioneer Twitter recently announced plans to scrap its current architecture in favor of an all-new design based on an obscure language called Scala -- which, like Groovy, runs on the JVM. Says Twitter engineer Alex Payne, "We know that people write super-high-performance code in C++ ... but we wanted to be using a language that we're really passionate about, and it seemed worth taking a gamble on Scala."