No longer impenetrable

Oracle closes Fortress language down for good

Chris Mayer
fortress

After a decade of development, Oracle decides to axe the long-running high performance language project.

Oracle is to cease all production on the long-running
Fortress language project, seeking to cast aside any language that
isn’t cutting the mustard financially.

Guy Steele, creator of Fortress and also involved in Java’s
development under Sun jurisdiction,

wrote on his blog
: “After
working nearly a decade on the design, development, and
implementation of the Fortress programming language, the Oracle
Labs Programming Language Research Group is now winding down the
Fortress project.“

He added: “Ten years is a remarkably long run for an
industrial research project (one to three years is much more
typical), but we feel that our extended effort has been
worthwhile.”

Originally coming out of Sun Microsystems Labs and influenced
by Fortran, Fortress is a rich parallel JVM-running language that
drew heavily from Java but pushed things on by adding in the ‘for’
loop for example. Its goal was to become the premier choice for
advanced languages, and make the whole process of creating high
performance software easier.

Its syntax bears resemblance to the likes of Scala and
Haskell, and herein lies its failure; it just couldn’t shift those
two in terms of developer mindshare and quickly fell down the
pecking order, certainly after it became part of Oracle’s

wider portfolio after purchasing Sun. With the
last stable release 10 months ago, the writing was clearly on the
wall.

The team behind Fortress have met their fair share of
teething issues in targeting the JVM with the Fortress type system.
Steele notes ‘severe technical challenges’ aside from that
mismatch, such as the implications of implementing a symmetric
multimethod dispatch. But that isn’t a slight on the team at all –
their work paved the way for others to be daring and break
conventions in language development. Both Clojure and Scala have
dabbled along the way with revolutionary features like Fortress
tried.

Steele went on further to say that the team were
now unlikely to learn more (in a research sense) from
completing the implementation of Fortress for JVM” so its the end
of the road for their part. But Fortress will still remain
available as an open source language like it has since 2007’s olive
branch to the community, just before a 1.0 version appeared for the
JVM.

Whilst production won’t end straight away, we can expect a
lengthy winding-down period
in order to,
in Steele’s words
, get “the code and
language specification into the best shape that we can.” Plus there
will be some research papers provided to perhaps stoke the fires of
some wanting to use Fortress’s ideals in their own
project.

It’s just another victim in Oracle’s cost-cutting measures
(see OpenOffice), and you begin to wonder who is next in the firing
line in this initiative. Fortress was really just a research
project and nothing more. We shouldn’t underestimate its impact
though in inspiring the design of other languages.

Fortress had a good run for a research project, but
considering it only ever had
five
blog entries to its name
, it’s
surprising it even lasted three years at Oracle. We wish the team
all the best in their other future endeavours.

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