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Google Targets JavaScript with Dart

Preview edition of web programming language is posted as a "structured yet flexible" alternative to JavaScript.

Google today pulled the wraps off an "early preview" of its Dart programming language. Dart is squarely aimed at providing an alternative to JavaScript, which has become the "lingua franca" for developers of web applications, but a nettle to Google.

From Google's point of view, JavaScript is just too flawed to keep up with the demand for robust applications on the Web and to cope with competition from proprietary alternatives like Apple's iOS. "Building delightful applications on the Web today is far too difficult," Google research scientist Mark S. Miller notes in an internal memo written in November of last year. "The cyclone of innovation is increasingly moving off the Web onto iOS and other closed platforms."

"Javascript has been a part of the Web platform since its infancy, but the Web has begun to outgrow it," he adds.

Miller maintains that programmers developing Web applications have to write more and more JavaScript code just to work around deficiencies in the language. What's more, JavaScript has become a real obstacle to large-scale app developers like Google because it can't be tooled and it has inherent performance problems.

"The Web has succeeded historically to some extent in spite of the Web platform, based primarily on the strength of its reach," he contends. "The emergence of compelling alternative platforms like iOS has meant that the Web platform must compete on its merits, not just its reach." 

"Javascript as it exists today will likely not be a viable solution long-term," he predicts. "Something must change."

In a posting at the Google Code blog today, Lars Bak, a software engineer on Google's Dart team, outlines the goals of the project:

  • Create a structured yet flexible language for Web programming.
  • Make Dart feel familiar and natural to programmers so it's easy to learn.
  • Ensure that Dart delivers high performance on all modern Web browsers and environments ranging from small handheld devices to server-side execution.

Bak explainsthat applications written in Dart can be executed either in a native virtual machine or as compiled JavaScript. In that case, a compiler would be used to translate the Dart code into JavaScript. Since all browsers run JavaScript, the compiled Dart app would be able to run in any browser.

That accommodation to JavaScript is part of Google's peaceful cooexisence strategy with the language. In his memo, Miller denies that Google intended to kill JavaScript and declared that the search giant had a "huge interest in keeping the evolution of JavaScript on track." That interest includes increased investment in TC39, the JavaScript standards body.

With the announcement of the early preview of Dart, Google has made some basic libraries and tools available for programmers to experiment with the open source language at a dedicated Website.

It has been estimated that the World Wide Web accounts for only a quarter of the traffic on the Internet, a number that continues to decline. If something like Dart can bring innovators back to the Web, maybe it can reverse that decline and silence those who have already written the Web's obituary.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.


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