Scala to close Java gap? You bet

$14m capital funding, Scala is ready to take on Java

Chris Mayer

Today’s latest news is the surest indication so far that JVM language Scala has positioned itself to challenge Java and can only mean good things for Scala devs.

Typesafe, the company behind multi-paradigm language Scala touted as a Java killer, have no doubt been heading the right direction in recent years. Since Scala’s creation by Martin Odersky in 2001, the highly scalable language has progressed from an elitist language to a viable commercial option.

This enterprise assault was arguably fueled by the creation of Typesafe last year, a commercial arm that would be central to the language’s development, but also a software stack comprising of Scala, concurrency framework Akka and Play, the open source web application framework. Scala had already garnered attention from websites with huge scalability needs, such as The Guardian, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, and Foursquare – all of which command huge traffic levels. Another high-profile switch to Scala was Twitter’s(from Ruby)– which has influenced a number of open source projects in due course.

But with the arrival of a company housing the entire Scala development, only then could more and more enterprises switch on to the benefits of using the language in this multicore age. Today’s news that Typesafe has closed a $14m Series B round of funding led by Shasta Ventures should give further indication that Scala is a language on the rise.

In this latest round of funding, Juniper Networks pledged money through its Junos Innovation Fund, whilst existing investors including Greylock Partners (who have already pumped in $3m) and former Oracle executive Francois Stieger, backed the expansion. Along with the funding, there is the news that Typesafe has appointed Shasta Ventures Managing Director Jason Pressman to its board, alongside the likes of Java godfather James Gosling.

Pressman spoke of what this would allow Typesafe to achieve, saying:

Typesafe allows developers to effectively develop robust applications that address the dual challenges of large-scale distributed “cloud computing” applications and massively multicore hardware platforms while still integrating seamlessly with the Java infrastructure.

Whilst news of further funding is undoubtedly good news for the Scala community at large, what precisely does that mean for the collection of products themselves?

Writing in a blog, the team say that their mission – to build the most scalable software platform for multicore, parallel and cloud applications – hasn’t changed. The capital will aid that by allowing further investment in the Typesafe Stack – the aforementioned Scala, Akka, Play and the newly released database connector Slick. By bolstering the projects surrounding the core language, we should see things progress nicely. As well as the TypeSafe Stack receiving loving attention, supporting crucial infrastructure like the Scala IDE for Eclipse, sbt, and zinc will also see enhancements, as will the commercial side of the operation that provides services and training.

However, the most important area that Scala must address (and no doubt are already looking at) is reaching out to a broader audience. The key to this is to continue what they’re doing: build upon existing Java projects and prove once again that they can offer more. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for some developers is its complexity. It’s definitely a hard language to grasp at first, bearing resemblance to Java (being statically typed and object-oriented) but bringing in functional programming concepts from the likes of Haskell.

Overcoming this hurdle for some developers is too much, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a turnoff for others – there’s a reason why Scala was touted by Groovy creator James Strachan as a potential successor to Java. It takes what Java does well and mixes in other ideas for something new. There’s not necessarily a need to dumb down Scala – in fact that’s why we love it.

However, it is clear to us that further education of what Scala can do for developer could be the catalyst it needs to bring the gap down between itself and Java, and this investment should see that happen.

Typesafe say they are hiring developers too, and with more onboard, we could well see Scala reach the top tier of popular languages. Stephen O’Grady of RedMonk made the point back in February that Scala was beginning to separate itself from the Tier 2 language – we believe today’s news means it definitely will do in the coming months. Now the big challenge is to sustain that grassroots interest from the developer community into something much more tangible. They’ve already got the big guns on side, now it’s down to the community itself to promote Scala’s worth.

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