JavaScript Can Not Win

I read a story over on Hackernoon by Jonny Asmar — Javascript Has Already Won. The premise is that Node.js and JavaScript have become so far reaching that it has won out over other programming languages.

Unfortunately, this entire line of thinking is nonsense. Not because JavaScript can’t do all the things claimed, but because there is nothing to win. JavaScript can not win, because there is no contest. JavaScript can not win, because there is nothing to win.

JavaScript can not win, because there is nothing to win.

JavaScript has been around since 1995. Other notable programming languages of the 90’s include Haskell (1990), Python & Visual Basic (1991), Ruby (1993), and both Java & PHP (1995). According to the TIOBE Index, both Java and Python exceed JavaScript in this survey’s index of popularity. And, even venerable old C, released way back in 1972, is experiencing more rapid growth than JavaScript.

But, so what? So, nothing. That’s the point. If we keep looking at the TIOBE Index, such languages as COBOL (#24), Fortran (#33), and Prolog (#41) still make the rankings — and, those former two are from the later 1950s. So, what exactly has JavaScript won? Nothing. Because there is nothing to win.

There’s no prize for ubiquity when it comes to programming languages, because there is no ubiquity to be had. Any programming language able to reach a certain level of popularity is very unlikely to ever die. COBOL has been around since 1959 and it has been cited that 70 to 80 percent of business transactions run on it. So, if anyone has won anything it is COBOL, not JavaScript.

No matter how popular a language gets, there is no prize to claim. Not only because popularity comes and goes, but because the competition is worse than vanity: it’s imaginary. If every line of COBOL were rewritten in JavaScript, there is nothing preventing the same disruption from coming to JavaScript. And that’s because there is no perfect programming language, paradigm, or ecosystem. That is the great vanity of too many software developers.

I have developed software for the web since 2003. And I know that my years of experience are minuscule compared to those in this industry since before I was born. I’m not old enough to have seen any technologies take-off and then vanish into obscurity, but I know it has happened. I’ve not had the misfortune of working with a thriving technology and to see it stagnate and dwindle to nothing. But, I’ve heard the tales of those who have been around and worked long enough to have experienced that. And, even for those folks, their loss was only temporary. They lost one tool and found another. In the end, they lost nothing because there was nothing for them to lose.

Programming languages are tools. The ones that are suitable and flexible can become popular. Even ones that are unpleasant can find their own degree of popularity. But, to ever say that one programming language has won seems like nonsense to me. That is, unless you are talking about COBOL. Because, if the stats are true, COBOL is the winner of whatever the contest of programming languages is.

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