One of the most visible presentations from last weeks RailsConf was Avi Bryant’s demonstration of MagLev, which is a RubyVM that is based on Gemstone’s S/64 VM for Smalltalk. This caused a stir because the micro benchmark performance of MagLev looks really good because S/64 has been out in production for a while and because it appears to have some really interesting features (an OODB, shared VM’s, etc). MagLev is a reminder that the world of production quality, high-performance virtual machines is bigger than many of us remember at times.
I believe that over the next few years we will see a flourishing of virtual machines, as well as languages atop existing virtual machines. Take for example Reia, a Ruby/Pythonesque experiment atop Erlang’s BEAM VM. As we return to a multi language world, we will also necessarily return to a multiple implementation world. Before Java, there were many languages and many implementations of those languages. You could argue that there were probably too many, and I think that’s probably true. I would argue that we need to enter a new period of language and runtime experimentation. A big driver, but not the only driver, for this is the approaching multi-core world. When you don’t know how to solve something, more attempts at solutions is better.