[TLUG]: ECMAScript ("Javascript") Version 4 - FALSE ALARM

Brendan Eich brendan at mozilla.org
Sat Oct 27 13:04:01 PDT 2007

On Oct 27, 2007, at 8:00 AM, Scott Elcomb wrote:

> Hi all,
> First off, I'd like to say thanks for all the good questions and
> answers from folks on the list.  I haven't been here long, but have
> already learned a bunch.  Looking forward to ES4.

Thanks. Here's hoping ES4 as proposed is not quashed by the  
combination of anonymous propaganda campaigns and truly-secret  
maneuverings within the standards body by the pay-to-play members  
(Mozilla is not one; we don't have that access).

What follows below are my opinions, presented bluntly as ever. This  
is long, but evidently necessary and appropriate to es4-discuss. I'll  
blog about the situation soon too.

> Anyway, I received this post* this morning in response to a notice I
> sent along about the ES4 overview.  I'm not sure what to make of the
> story...
> Any comments or clarifications?

A link to a slashdot anonymous posting? What's to clarify? :-/

As much as possible, those of us in Ecma TG1 actually working  
productively on ES4 for over two consecutive years have made our work  
and intentions known by means of this list, the http://ecmascript.org  
site, the SML reference implementation, and blog posts and public  
talks I've given.

In opposition, only Doug Crockford has spoken his mind forthrightly  
in the last several months. Good for him (I'll argue with his version  
of the reality elsewhere), but shame on the biggest company involved,  
which has not contributed at all in the open, instead leaving people  
with wrong impressions about its commitment to ES4.

Many people don't know where Microsoft stands, knowing only that it  
contributed over the years to draft ES4 proposals, implemented a  
variant of one such draft specification in JScript.NET, and had one  
of its employees (Rok Yu) contributing to TG1 work, with his name on  
E4X (ECMA-357) as well as ES3 and the 2003 interim ES4 draft report.  
Indeed, up until early this year, the rest of us in TG1 had no clear  
statement of dissent from Microsoft. So, who is not dealing  
forthrightly or openly here?

To be more fair than the opponents of ES4-as-proposed have been, I'll  
add this obvious reassurance: any organization or person can change  
position. Indeed one Microsoft rep confided to me that "we were  
asleep!" about what was going on with Microsoft passively  
participating in TG1 before this year. So let's say there was no  
duplicity, no playing along with the rest of TG1's long-standing  
work, only to reverse suddenly late in the process.

Nevertheless, standards do not require unanimity, and even Microsoft  
loses sometimes. That's life.

> * http://article.gmane.org/gmane.org.user-groups.linux.tolug/36420

Cc'ing Walt Dnes.

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Walter Dnes <waltdnes at waltdnes.org>
> Date: Oct 27, 2007 3:44 AM
> Subject: Re: [TLUG]: ECMAScript ("Javascript") Version 4 - FALSE ALARM
> To: tlug at ss.org
> On Mon, Oct 22, 2007 at 04:04:52PM -0400, Scott Elcomb wrote
>> An official overview[1] of "Javascript 2.0" was released today.
>> It will likely be some months (at least) for this version of the
>> language to show up in web browsers, but it might be a good idea to
>> get on-board early.
>   Not so fast.  See the note on Slashdot Firehose at
> http://slashdot.org/firehose.pl?op=view&id=350409
>   Since it's not too long, I'll quote it in its entirety...
>> "At The Ajax Experience conference, it was announced that an
>> ECMAScript4 white paper had been released. The implication being
>> that the white paper was the upcoming spec, which is untrue.

That untrue implication comes from the anonymous coward, not from any  
of us involved in TG1 who have worked in the open on ES4. From the  
white paper's introduction:

This overview reflects the position of the majority in Ecma TC39-TG1.  
A minority in TG1 do not agree that the language presented here  
should become ES4. However, Ecma and ISO do not require unanimity to
make standards, and no alternative proposal has been submitted to  
TG1. Therefore the language described in this overview continues to  
be proposed as ES4.

No one reading this overview could confuse it for a specification.  
 From the front page of the overview, the first footnote:

This document reflects the understanding of the language as of  
October 2007. TG1 is no longer accepting proposals and has started  
writing the language specification. The ES4 reference implementation  
is undergoing stabilization and is already passing large parts of its  
test suite, and this document describes the final language in most  
respects. That said, TG1 maintains a bug tracking system at http:// 
bugs.ecmascript.org/, and ES4 is subject to further refinement as  
known and new bugs in the design are resolved

>> Not to
>> mention this is not an official ECMA site, but a site run by only
>> some of the members from the ECMAScript4 group.

With permission from Ecma staff.

>> These facts

The insinuation that someone was passing a self-described overview  
off as a spec is not a "fact", it's a lie from the anonymous  
miscreant. The same goes for the claim about http://ecmascript.org/  
being passed off as an "official ECMA site" -- that site would be  
http://www.ecma-international.org/. The http://ecmascript.org site  
was clearly announced, to this list and elsewhere, as a tool for  
making draft specs, the reference implementation, and trac tickets  
available to everyone, in order to get feedback to Ecma TC39-TG1.

>> were later revealed by another concerned ECMAScript4 member.

Who was that concerned member, pray tell?

Another bogus tactic: play the underdog, oppressed into anonymity by  
the majority in some formerly-consensus-based group. Yeah, right!  
Microsoft is never the underdog. (I'm assuming that member was not  
Doug Crockford.)

Anonymous, easily falsified assertions do not help persuade anyone.  
They are obvious signs of political intrigue instigated by the  
anonymous party, in preference to joining in open discussion and debate.

>> He encouraged
>> any interested parties to read the proposed feature white paper, join
>> the discussion mailing list on that site, and share your opinions
>> for (or against) the desired features.

As we have encouraged people for a long time. It's not as if http:// 
ecmascript.org/ was a secret, ever. It was announced on http://lambda- 
the-ultimate.org/ and my blog at http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/ 
roadmap/, and elsewhere.

>> This seems a little `cloak
>> and dagger` of those running the site,

I hope it's clear to everyone that the shoe is on the other foot.  
This is a classic inflammatory propaganda technique: anonymous  
parties accuse the group that has acted openly of the very traits the  
dissenters and their allies are demonstrating. It's a nervy move:  
pretend against all evidence that open work on ES4 was somehow  
deceptive or secretive, and pose as heroes shining light instead of  

This propaganda technique is meant to inflame all parties and  
distract from the substantive question, which is this:

Should ES4 grow to address real problems in ES3, and thereby subsume  
(in the case of ActionScript 3) or compete with (Microsoft's  
favored .NET languages) the proprietary languages some vendors now  
opposing it are selling (Microsoft) or using (Yahoo!)? Or should ES4  
be a small and mostly formal (deprecation, not actual  
incompatibility) set of changes to ES3?

>> who desire serious changes
>> and are unfortunately Mozilla, Adobe, and others.

Big-company snobbery shows here: "others" would be Opera, MbedThis,  
and invited experts from academia and the Ajax community (sponsored  
by me, as it happens) on TG1, but I guess Opera doesn't count -- only  
big companies deserve mention.

The "unfortunately" above is telling. It's "unfortunate" that  
organizations other than the dominant browser vendor (you know, the  
one convicted of abusing its monopoly and forced back into the web  
standard bodies only by renewed browser competition) have tried to  
build a meaningful successor version to Edition 3 of ECMAScript, one  
that addresses real problems in the language faced by JS users every  
day. After eight years of stagnation, mostly due to the monopolistic  

It would be good fortune, then, I suppose, to keep JavaScript "down  
on the farm", while Silverlight and its likely integration (if not  
the full WPF stack integration) in IE8 have time to reach and  
penetrate the Web. I get it! We should just lie back and rest easy.

Indeed Microsoft does not desire serious change to ES3, and we heard  
this inside TG1 in April. The words were (from my notes) more like  
this: "Microsoft does not think the web needs to change much".  
Except, of course, via Silverlight and WPF, which if not matched by  
evolution of the open web standards, will spread far and wide on the  
Web, as Flash already has. And that change to the Web is apparently  
just fine and dandy according to Microsoft.

In this view, standards bodies exist to give advantage to competing  
companies, preferably by stamping -- sometimes rubber-stamping -- de  
jure approval on vendor-created de facto standards. If one company  
has dominant market position, it's fine for that market power to  
translate directly into standards power. Sometimes, as in the case of  
OOXML vs. ODF, it is also fine for a company to compete with an open  
standard being favored by governments, by trying to create an  
alternative standard and push it through ISO.

Mozilla's position is different: standards bodies exist to serve  
developers and users, in this case web developers who write JS and  
use its libraries, and browser users who face increasingly advanced  
graphical and hypertext web applications that are pushing the limits  
of open standards implemented natively in the browsers. In our view,  
standards bodies can and should evolve standards to meet unmet needs.  
This view is shared by the majority cohort in TG1, who favor ES4.

Look at the history of JavaScript from 1995 through 2004, when  
Firefox launched and took back market share from IE. When Netscape  
had majority browser share, Microsoft worked aggressively in ECMA (as  
it was then spelled) to evolve ES1-3. Once Microsoft had near- 
monopoly share, progress utterly halted.

Is Microsoft's philosophy of standards the right thing? Is it the  
best way to improve the web? Take a side, but spare me the pretense  
that the group acting openly and working on ES4 is somehow  
victimizing the ES4 rejecters, who have to use anonymous sock puppets  
to speak (with forked tongues) for themselves.

>> The concerned
>> individual suggested that they simply create a new language with a
>> new name, as there are that many fundamental differences.

Another easily refuted claim, since everything in the new language is  

I'm actually not sure Doug or Microsoft's representatives know this,  
however. Sometimes they speak as if type annotations or static type  
checking are being mandated in ES4. Of course that's not true, but  
such misapprehensions keep coming up, mostly as "spin" or "talking  
points", not as substantive technical claims that could be proven  
true or false.

>> Many of
>> us are very concerned that the language we love is being rewritten
>> under our feet."

Love is important, it's what keeps a boat in the air (Serenity).

This sounds all heartfelt -- but it's phony as a three dollar bill!  
ES4 is a superset of ES3, with optional new facilities. It does  
nothing to "the language we love" but supplement it where its  
weaknesses are manifest to anyone who has written large programs in  
JS. No one is required to use the new features, nothing is lost from  
the common core language.

I created JS, so I can speak more authentically than whoever was  
quoted above: I love JS too, quirks and all, but the idea that it  
should be kept small, like a Toy Poodle, while giant companies such  
as Microsoft and Yahoo! are purveying and propagating onto the Web  
proprietary Rottweiler languages -- JS-beating programming languages  
with ES4-like features -- and even hyping such languages against JS  
(see the rigged C# chess demo from Mix07 that MS wrote to show up the  
JScript version of the same program: http://primates.ximian.com/ 
~miguel/pictures/mix-chess.png) -- this is a breathtaking imposture.

Sure, keep JS small in your hearts. But please, don't kid yourselves  
that it has not reached the big-time, or that it and the open web  
standards it works with to enable Ajax apps will survive the  
onslaught of proprietary competitors, unless JS and other open  
standards evolve significantly.

On that note, I'll stop. Peace, love, and truth to all, including the  
anonymous cowards.


> --
> Walter Dnes <waltdnes at waltdnes.org> In linux /sbin/init is Job #1
> Q. Mr. Ghandi, what do you think of Microsoft security?
> A. I think it would be a good idea.
> --
> The Toronto Linux Users Group.      Meetings: http://gtalug.org/
> TLUG requests: Linux topics, No HTML, wrap text below 80 columns
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> -- 
>   Scott Elcomb
>   http://www.psema4.com/
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