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

Brendan Eich brendan at mozilla.org
Sun Oct 28 15:05:33 PDT 2007

On Oct 28, 2007, at 2:16 PM, Robert Sayre wrote:

> On 10/28/07, Mark Miller <erights at gmail.com> wrote:
>> But even if you have succeeded at integrating together more good  
>> ideas
>> into a coherent language design than have many previous brilliant
>> language designers, I have another concern: Standards bodies should
>> not do de-novo design.
> JS has evolved since IE6 was released. Many of the "new" features are
> already available in ActionScript, Mozilla, Opera, and elsewhere.

Beyond what has happened since MIcrosoft tried to stagnate the web,  
ES4 takes into account solid (and far from novel) research from the  
'90s on generic functions (Dylan, Cecil) and structural types (Modula  
3, others), both of which are variously hard-coded or latent in  
JavaScript: see the existing +, <, and other operators; see also  
object and array duck types used for data definitions, JSON, and the  
like, with ad-hoc shape-testing code enforcing the latent type  
discipline (e.g. MochiKit's Base.isArrayLike).

The most novel aspect of ES4 is the gradual typing support (Siek and  
Taha; Flanagan et al.), but this machinery (like, wrap, the  
compatibility type relation) is almost trivial to prove. You could  
argue that it is not worth including, but putting scare quotes (or  
scare-Latinisms) around it to make it seem bleeding-edge would be bogus.

ES4 is not radically new and risky. No one criticizing it in general,  
vague, and by some reports misleading terms has produced specific  
evidence to the contrary.

But I'll go further, to call out what may be a disagreement over the  
proper function of standards bodies. I believe that standards bodies  
should synthesize well-studied, relevant research results,  
implementation extensions shipped for years in derived dialects, and  
pragmatic solutions to small bugs in the existing language defined by  
the standard body, when working on the next version of the standard.

Whatever the motivations of ES4 critics, the assertion that standards  
bodies should not host such collaborative, developer- and user- 
oriented work means in practice that big companies will dominate  
standards bodies, as I wrote here recently. That may be fine for pay- 
to-play consortia and their biggest (and best-paying) members. It is  
not good for developers, users, small and medium size vendors, or the  
public in general.


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