Javascript and the end of history (of programming languages)

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published the essay “The end of history?” which says:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

I am not the first to notice that the programming world seems to be undergoing a similar shift, with the universalization of Javascript and its seeming adoption as the final form of programming.

The Mozilla platform (XUL, XPCOM, etc…) has long made it possible to develop desktop applications in Javascript (Firefox most famously) but radical changes have been afoot. Microsoft and the Gnome Foundation have both made Javascript their a central development language. On the mobile front Apache Cordova (formerly Phonegap), Firefox OS and other projects are ensuring steady growth of Javascript there.

Of course Node.js means that your server side code can now be written in Javascript as well. If you are wondering if how that is going, consider that Modulecounts reports that the npm package repository is growing faster even than Rubygems. On top of all that HTML 5 and standards like WebRTC and WebGL ensure that Javascript grows ever more powerful in the browser as well.

This is a curious shift to watch. Javascript is a pretty surprising choice for the “final form” of programming but here it is anyway, its adoption driven presumably by the number or programmers familiar with it from working with the DOM. Microsoft’s adoption seems is doubly curious; what would be the difference between Firefox OS and Windows when all/most apps are written in Javascript? It’s as though they are embracing Marc Andreessen’s famous prediction that “Windows will just be a buggy set of device drivers” and adding “and a Javascript API!”.

Does all this really spell the end for other languages? Is Javascript really taking over the world? It’s hard not to feel that way.

The famous philosopher Slavoj Žižek points out that where we used to see demands for Western-style democracy after every introduction of capitalism (and thus thought there was causation not just correlation), we are starting to see capitalism appear in stronger forms without democracy, giving a new form of political organisation. What he is getting at is that Fukuyama was wrong, history marches onwards after all.

When I look at projects on the border between Javascript and Ruby where authors are pressing each languages strengths and compensating for weaknesses, I think there is plenty more history to come in the world of programming. It just looks like the path to get there is going to be dominated by Javascript.


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