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Fri, 31 Jan 2003
.NET and the CLR
I find myself thinking more and more about doing some work in the CLR environment. Notice that I said CLR, not necessarily .NET. Near the end of my grad school days in the early 90's, some friends of mine asked me to sit in on a programming languages seminar that they were running. We talked about Oak/Java, Dylan, and a bunch of other languages. A that time I was not particularly impressed with Java as a language. Compared to the Lisp family of languages, Java was just barely catching up. Now that Java is a success, some folks would like you to believe that Java invented dynamic languages, and that the only thing left to do is expand the libraries until they bloat up and consume the world -- which they're well on they way to doing.

I have a slightly different perspective. The adotption of managed environments (the combination of JIT VM's and automatic memory management) is a long overdue development in the evolution of software development, but we haven't arrived. There is a lot of room for improvement in the languages that we are using to today. The JVM and the ecosystem around it are focused on Java. Yes, there are implementations of lots of other languages on the JVM. Yes, some of them talk to Java. But for non-technical reasons, the JVM is going to be focused on Java, and for reasons of compatibility Sun is going to continue to evolve the JVM very slowly.

I'm interested in a managed environment that can still evolve and grow. Microsoft is claiming that this is what they want. I'm not sure that I believe that they will continue to evolve it. But it doesn't matter. Mono provides a managed environment that can evolve. It has compatibility with the current ECMA CLR and will continue to. Compatibility to the MS CLR is nice, but Miguel says that they have Mono running on Windows as well. So here we have an open source, potentially evolvable managed environment. If the Mono guys can get just the ECMA specified portions of the CLR running well, I think that this is very interesting. I'm interested in seeing continued innovation at the runtime level, and that's not really happening with the JVM. What is happening is improvements in the quality of implementation. I'd like to see the Mono ECMA CLR, with a switch that can be flipped to go into Microsoft compatible mode, however compatible that turns out to be, for whoever cares to be compatible. But I'm just as happy to see an open source CLR based runtime evolve starting from what is Mono today, and if it forks from the Microsoft one (due either to Microsoft changing theirs or the open source one changing), I'm not bothered by that.

So, am I a heretic yet?

Then we go on to build managed libraries that provide Windowing API's, etc. Then Haskell.CLR can actually talk to the rest of the computer, and we get to a place where everytime we want to innovate in the language space, we don't have to throw away the ability to do useful stuff. That's been the single biggest problem with adoption of "advanced languages" is that they can't talk to the rest of the computer, and they can't leverage any existing library code. I think that a scheme such as the one I'm proposing might actually work.

People will suggest that open sourcing the JVM would solve the problem just as well. Possibly, but I've given up hope that Sun will decide to open-source Java and the JVM. Even if they do, they'll encumber it with something like the JCP. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the JCP is not in the innovation business. It is in the keep things under control business. If you look at the number of Jakarta projects that are used in all kinds of software projects, you realize that things don't have to be standardized by the JCP in order for them to be adopted broadly. I want to see something that can grow and evolve and where the best code can win.

Maybe I really am a heretic.

[22:27] | [computers/programming] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
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I work at the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF).
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, not those of my employer.

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