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OpenJS World Keynote Series: Exploring the History of JavaScript

By August 21, 2020Blog, OpenJS World

During the OpenJS Foundation global conference OpenJS World, Alex Williams at The New Stack had the opportunity to hear from one of the leaders in the JavaScript world, Allen Wirfs-Brock. 

Allen Wirfs-Brock served as project editor for the ECMAScript Language Specification, the international standard that defines the latest version of the JavaScript programming language. Fortunately for developers, Brock has greatly improved JavaScript through his contributions to EcmaScript 5, 5.1 and 6. Alex Williams, founder of The New Stack, interviewed Brock to review the history of JavaScript and understand how relatively unusual practices became fundamental to the language.

First-time developers often incorrectly assume that JavaScript has something to do with Java. Brock explains that Netscape, the producers of JavaScript, and Sun Microsystems, the producers of Java, formed a partnership in 1995 to combat Microsoft’s advances into the web market. JavaScript was originally positioned to be a simple scripting language companion for the more robust Java language, even though the two languages had many differences. 

The naming convention aside, JavaScript quickly outgrew its “companion” status and became a powerful development tool. However, Brock recounts how the language was initially developed with a “worse is better” mentality in order to quickly take advantage of an emerging web platform. Despite its problems, JavaScript continued to grow even as “reformation” attempts tried and failed to fix the language. 

To end the talk, Brock explains how he approached JavaScript’s issues in 2008, and managed to fix many of the issues the language had. His work at EcmaScript was a counterintuitive, but ultimately successful process that provided a way to move forward and build upon the existing framework. 

You can find the Keynote broken down by section below: 

Introduction 0:00

History of Programming Conference 0:27

JavaScript: The Most Misunderstood Programming Language 1:33

Netscape + Java = Dead Windows 3:12

Early Impacts of JavaScript 04:19

Unique/Key Players in Early JavaScript 06:05

“Worse is Better” 7:27

Browser Game Theory Developing 7:55

Diverging Design Efforts 10:24

The Failed JavaScript Reformation 12:04

Improving JavaScript: Early Failures 13:53

Moving Forward: EcmaScript 3.1 (renamed 5) 15:58

The Present and Future of JavaScript 17:05

Conclusion 19:15