Brendan Eich: Web development is tough, developers are tougher

The JavaScript founder also says the language is approaching its endgame: performance parity with native code

After likening Web developers to a movie character who used a chainsaw as a hand, JavaScript founder Brendan Eich laid out ongoing plans for improving the language.

JavaScript performance is getting close to native performance, Eich said on Wednesday at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference in San Francisco. But the road for JavaScript developers has been challenging so far. He compared Web developers to a character played by the actor Bruce Campbell in the "Evil Dead" movie.

"To be a Web developer, you have to be tough like Ash," said Eich, who is CTO at Mozilla. "JavaScript is kind of a chainsaw you have in place of a hand on the Web." Web development, he said, "has always been hard." And it still is.

But the "high road" for JavaScript -- the ECMAscript 6 specification -- is visible now and already is being implemented in top browsers, Eich said, noting that "ECMAScript is where we actually make substantive changes to fill gaps in the language," without actually changing JavaScript to another language. Instead of developers having to look at pre-compilers or trans-compilers, ECMAScript 6 gives them nice affordances within the language and outside of it as well.

ECMAScript 6 and 7 are being developed in parallel, and Eich pointed out that version 7 shows the high- and low-road distinctions of JavaScript. For example, object observe, one of the high-road capabilities, enables a Model View Controller library to automatically synchronize model view. The object observe capability is based on proxy work in version 6 that is already in the Firefox and Chrome browsers.

The low road, meanwhile, has ECMAScript adding fairly rudimentary, almost machine-level affordances without losing safety or security. These capabilities include such features as value objects and SIMD (single instruction multiple data). Value objects, a proposal championed for version 7, takes in types not in JavaScript. SIMD, meanwhile, benefits parallelism. Already featured in the rival Google Dart language, SIMD is important for digital signal processing and games, Eich said.

"JavaScript has been under amazing evolutionary pressure," Eich said. "It looks like it's going to reach the endgame," resulting in a virtual machine that is really fast for native code and has high-level affordances for Web development, he said.

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