Aiming for bullseye

Behind Google’s “JavaScript killer” Dart

Elliot Bentley
google-dart.21

“It’s much harder to do a language than a virtual machine,” Dart co-founder Lars Bak has admitted.

Having been announced to
equal fanfare and derision, client-side web language Google Dart has been bubbling away
quietly since October 2011.

With a 1.0 release on the horizon, one of the architects of the
“JavaScript killer” has spoken about the ambitious attempt to
displace one of the world’s most popular languages.

In a long
interview with The Register
, Dart co-founder Lars Bak outlined
some of the challenges of developing – and encouraging use of – the
new language, which was originally known as Dash. Previously, Bak
was best known for producing Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine,
generally considered to have spurred an arms race among browsers
competing for the title of fastest JS engine.

“I have learned it’s much harder to do a language than a virtual
machine,” Bak told The Register. “People are extremely opinionated
when doing a language […] I have learned that you have to do it
properly.”

Cynicism is the first hurdle for a new language: “The initial
reaction to doing another programming language is people say: ‘We
have one that’s sufficient’. Change can be hard for some
people.”

Then there’s the problem of trying to satisfy all users of the
language. Though admitting that some might “expect more complex
constructs” from Dart, Bak said his priority is to “make it easy
for ordinary programmers” – “to make it simple so people can use it
in an hour”.

Although Dart can compile directly to JavaScript, the project’s
ultimate aim is to run within the browser – which means convincing
other browser manufacturers to support it. Despite Dart’s
performance gains over JavaScript, Google’s control over the
language might unsettle Chrome’s rivals.

“This is not taking anything away from JavaScript,” insisted Bak,
who said that innovation was needed “with the mobile
ecosystem”.

Not yet on the cards is the possibility of Dart making a
Node.js-style leap onto the server side, especially as it would be
in direct competition with
Go
, another recent Google language. Go has fared better so far
in the real world, deployed in several internal Google
projects.

Last month, days before Christmas, the developers
released the language’s second milestone
, the headline feature
of which was far smaller JavaScript output of dart2js. Bak says
they hope to release a 1.0 version by the summer.

For Dart to become more than another Google pet project, it will
need to truly prove its worth over JavaScript: something even the
mighty search giant may struggle with.

Photo by Bogdan
Suditu
.

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