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Google's Go is promising, but still in diapers

Experts say the new programming language will require a long-term commitment from Google to succeed

By Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service
November 12, 2009 10:52 AM ET

IDG News Service - Google's Go could improve on existing programming languages by simplifying development without sacrificing application performance, but it will likely take years for Go to attain an established position that will allow it to have a noticeable impact.

Consequently, it will be crucial for Google to commit to Go for the long term, working hard at championing and strengthening it. Otherwise, the open-source Go won't fulfill its stated potential of offering the development speed of dynamic languages like Python with the robustness of compiled languages like C++.

"I'd love to see a compiled, fast language like this take off in the Web development world. Developers have been trying to speed up development time with languages and frameworks for the past four to five years -- Ruby on Rails, Django, CodeIgniter -- but have been sacrificing application performance in that pursuit," said Michael Wales, a freelance PHP and Python Web developer.

"Google's goal is to develop a language that is not only efficient for the developer, in terms of developing an application, but is also efficient for the computer, in processing time/memory usage, and the business processes of that application [like] security, concurrency," Wales added in an e-mail interview.

Still, Go is very much at a baby stage right now, and Google and the open-source community that gathers around the project have their work cut out for them.

"It may be five years to a decade before Go reaches a critical mass to be a durable fixture in the computing tower of Babel, to even reach, say, 10 percent of new project starts across the board," said Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst.

Gartner analyst Ray Valdes shares a similar view. Valdes forecasts that it will take at least five years for Go to take solid hold and build a stable community of developers using it.

"The main inhibiting factors are that it's totally new, it requires learning a new language and set of tools and framework, and there's very little existing code that developers can leverage to build solutions," Valdes said in a phone interview. "So it'll take some time to have an impact outside of Google."

That timetable is a turn-off for Alan Peters, principal and founder of Singlebound Creative, a digital marketing agency, and founder and CEO of Tap Riot, a mobile applications startup.

"I'll keep an eye on it because my profession requires that I understand these things. But, frankly, no: It presents too much risk for either of my businesses," he said when asked if he plans to invest his companies' time and effort on Go right now.

"Google has a very academic corporate culture that values research and experimentation. Computer Science academia likes to invent programming languages," Peters added via e-mail. "At Singlebound and Tap Riot, we're really application-focused. And the applied world just has a different way it likes to solve problems: quickly."

Wales worries that Google may not make the disciplined, deliberate commitment that Go will require in order to succeed. "Sure, they are interested in it right now, but they are probably the most scattered group of developers to ever turn a profit, jumping from project to project without getting anything to that 'perfect' point -- with the exception of Google Maps and Google Reader," Wales said. "I mean, hell, how long have we been waiting for a decent contacts manager in Gmail?"

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