What will the world of dynamic programming languages and Web applications look like in five years? This is one of those highly personal and deeply philosophical questions best saved for after dessert is served, the drinks are poured, and the sidearms are safely locked away.
At the simplest level, the debate seems crucial. Choose the right language and new libraries magically appear because, well, the coolest programmers use the right language. The hottest languages attract the most developer energy, which usually turns into new libraries with the latest ideas.
Choosing the wrong language means filling your brains with semantic cruft that must be paged out to make room for yet another way of writing a loop. No one will be able to make sense of your code, and no one but you will care.
Still, choosing poorly saps one's energy. Some languages will be the dominant choice in certain niches. Choosing poorly means duplicating effort and looking longingly at the fast progress of others.
Commons or craft
Rob Malda, one of the founders of Slashdot, says that he chose Perl for the site because there were so many good libraries available in the CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive Network).
"I think Perl's primary advantage in 1997 when I original selected it was the active development occurring on CPAN," Malda explained. "There was a library for everything useful, and usually very quickly. This was critical because new technologies and versions for core functions were updating constantly."
But today, he added, "We have a much better idea of what you need for Web site building, and the tools and libraries have stabilized. All languages can handle the obvious things nice enough now."
This is a nice, politically neutral statement, but it doesn't solve the problem that in many shops, there must be only one Highlander. Only a kindergarten teacher would smile and say that all are equally good.
When a decision must be made, some believe it makes sense to go with popularity. The rich will get richer. PHP is the first language that many people learn after mastering HTML, and it will always be as comfortable as a childhood home. PHP server platforms from Zend Technologies offer better performance, making it possible to write a serious application in the language.
But will PHP be able to shake the casual structure that encourages beginners to whip up spaghetti code? Will it be able to continue to mix the presentation layer and the application layer without driving everyone insane? Will Zend's collection of server optimizations provide enough performance to overcome any limitations of the language?