Yesterday's post has touched off the version number debate again and not everyone is happy about that. Ricardo Signes, the current pumpking, appears to have said no, we're not going to do anything. chromatic has also dismissed the idea immediately.John Napiorkowski is also opposed to it.
Meanwhile, Joel Berger seems keen on addressing this issue, Johan Vromans also seemed to dispute the notion that a new version has no benefit. And Peter Rabbitson, in response to the claim that a new version is akin to the Emperor's New Clothes (my words, not the original author's) wrote:
The problem (as I see it) is that while we as an echo chamber don't have anything new to offer compared to 5.10 (roughly speaking), the wider world never looked past 5.6. This is an effort to fix that (and only that). Did linux 3.0 have anything new to offer? We can even "blame Linus" for the reasoning behind such a jump.
Looking at all of this, I have a small prediction to make.
Many years ago, on my first day at a new job, I tasted the coffee. I immediately spat it out. It was the worst coffee I had tasted in a long time. I found out later what happened.
Seems that everyone agreed that the company's previous coffee was awful, so the company contacted a bunch of vendors and had a taste test. The vendors came round, the employees had the day off work and everyone enjoyed sampling the many excellent coffees.
Except that there was a problem ... the resultant voting did not produce a clear winner. Management realized there was a problem and rather than risk offending anyone by picking someone else's winner, they chose a coffee that no one voted for. Hence, the employees were stuck with a coffee that satisfied no one (except management, perhaps).
The above is a true story and an analogy. I don't need to spell it out for you.
Regarding the version debacle, let me give you another analogy, one related to immigration. As many of you know, I write a modestly popular blog on a related "how to become an expat" topic. I've been studying it for years and it's a fascinating topic. In particular, the "push" and "pull" motivations are immigration are fascinating. People may feel pushed out of a country by human rights abuses, lack of jobs, war, and so on. People may feel pulled to another country by adventure, love, or family ties.
In my talking with expats, I often find that it's a combination of push and pull factors which have led them to seek a life abroad and so it it with Perl: many of us are pulled to new challenges, but I know of more than one well-regarded ex-Perl hacker who felt "pushed". I won't go into the reasons, but they're not that hard to see. Our coffee tastes bad.
So emigrating from Perl is one thing, but what about immigrating to Perl? Why would someone do that?
As I stated earlier, my motivation for reigniting the debate was simple: when I go to non-Perl conferences, such as OSCON, FOSDEM, or LinuxConf, one constant in the debate is "Perl hasn't had a major release in over a decade". In fact, if you think of Perl 5 as the last major release, that was 20 years ago! Many people who dismiss Perl weren't even potty trained when Perl 5 came out.
In fact, just about every major language out there seems to have had new "major" releases and whether we like it or not, the perception that Perl's last major release was twenty years ago lingers and is brought up.
When John Napiorkowski wrote abut this issue, said:
When I talk to recruiters and CTOs and Directors, or to venture capitalists and related investors they have heard of Perl. Perl, period. Version 5 to 6 is not particularly relevant. Changing the version number is not going to impact how people outside our community see Perl. Here's what I hear and I speak to a lot of people:
Except he also wrote:
Recruiters: "I have a hard time filling Perl jobs". (and we can't just say, "good programmers are hard to find", we've been saying that for 10+ years. Filling Perl jobs is a special category of HARD for recruiters.)
He touches on both sides of the "immigrating to" issue: business and technical. Sure, the suits don't care about version numbers and I wouldn't expect them to. I know that many devs wouldn't know squat about version numbers of languages they don't know or care about. However, why is there a hard time finding devs? John also wrote that younger devs say "Perl, WTF? People still use that?"
Because, as mentioned, Perl looks old. We know it looks old. People keep telling us this. Further, many developers agree that the "5" in Perl is an issue, particularly when "Perl 6" is seen as the successor (and I can't quite understand why some people think renaming Perl to Perl5 will help).
So John is right that business types are reluctant to choose Perl, but part of this is mindshare: produce something that enough devs can care about and you'll get that mindshare, but not if you can't convince devs to take a look in the first place.
So I waded through the responses here, on my Facebook account, on Joel Berger's blog entry, to P5P and on various other blogs. I wanted to see what the consensus was, if any. For many people, it was damned hard to see if they supported the idea or not. For others, if they offered commentary which seemed negative, I put them down as a "no" vote (for example, RJBS and Ed Avis). I tried to be as pessimistic as possible, but if someone suggested they would support an alternate versioning scheme and they didn't say "but I think the idea is silly", then I listed them as a "yes".
So I counted 39 voices who appeared to express an opinion, with 28 of them seeming to be in favor of this idea, or about 72% of people agreeing, if not that the version number should change, at least agreeing that they were amenable to the idea.
No, the above is not scientific and even if it were, Perl is not a democracy (nor should it be), but I think it's indicative of people's feelings on this topic.
And I predict that either nothing will change (in the face of controversy, easier to do nothing than something), or that we'll get something like Perl 5.20.0 being renamed to "Perl5 v20.0". The latter, of course, means that no one will understand the difference between "Perl 5" and "Perl5", they'll still see Perl 6 as the successor and they'll assume that the language is 20 years old and going nowhere.
Perl has the Scarlet Number 5 hanging around its neck and it's not going anywhere (and yes, I meant that as ambiguously as you read it).