Open Letter to ???

This post was imported from blogspot.

I have a letter I would like to send to relevant leaders at Google and Mozilla, but I'm not sure to whom I send it. I did send it to JavaScript inventor and Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich--just before he stepped down for holding a conservative political belief. Who to try next, I'm not sure; it seems that Mozilla is devoted to the one-language browser (Javascript) while Google supports a single language (Dart, which is "a better Javascript") with support for compiled languages "tacked on" (NaCl). I believe in a third way, but to whom could I send this, who is out there that might agree with me? So, here's the pitch:

Right now there's strong interest in "transpiling" other languages to JavaScript, which strikes me as a difficult process that cannot work for all source languages, may have various limitations when it does work, and may produce code that is much slower than code compiled directly from the source language.

I think the interest in transpilers is really a sign that developers want freedom to choose their own programming language for the client side. Devs should not have to use two different codebases for client and server, nor should the web browser dictate the choice of server language. I don't believe in "one language to rule them all" and I am hoping you don't either (indeed, Google and Mozilla are working on multiple programming languages each). However, I do think devs should be allowed to choose one language, and not have the choice dictated "from on high". I want to help create freedom of programming languages on the web, but it's such a major task that I could only do it as part of a Google or Mozilla team.

What I'd like to see is a new VM that is specifically designed to run a wide variety of languages with high performance, in contrast to the Java VM which was designed for one language (and not for high performance), and the CLR which was designed for a few specific languages (C#, VB, C++) but turns out to be unable to handle key features of many other languages. The CLR wouldn't support D or Go very well and probably not Rust either; for example, there are two general-purpose pointer types in the CLR: one type can point to the GC heap and one type can point to non-GC "native" heaps, but you cannot have a pointer that can point "anywhere", which is a feature D requires. So we should create a new VM, which Some people believe that the web has become a kind of operating system, but I think this reflects more the way people want to use it rather than the technological reality. Right now a browser is sort of a gimpy operating system that supports only one language and one thread per page. Real OSs support any programming language. Why not the web browser?

This entire web site is devoted to cross-language interoperability. But I know that this web site and the solutions I want to build are not the best use of my time. To me it is obvious that language interoperability is an important topic, but the single best place to work on this issue right now is the place where I'm not working: inside the web browser. But I can't create a quality VM by myself, and no one will pay me to do that. Until Google or Mozilla decides that the world needs a fast, flexible, low-level VM with high-level features, it won't happen. (Edit: well, now that MS has open-sourced large parts of the CLR, maybe I actually could accomplish something as one single person. However, it wouldn't interest my current supervisor at my university.)

Thanks for listening. I would love to be a part of a team that creates the VM, but mainly I hope Mozilla or Google will consider moving in this direction. Whether I get to be a part of it or not, the important thing is that somebody makes it happen. Because the software industry needs this.

David Piepgrass
< Published on CodeProject >