Why some people avoid esoteric languages

defmacro - Why Exotic Languages Are Not Mainstream:

"Haskell is an excellent programming language. It has features that allow for a tremendous productivity boost. Type inference figures out and lets you examine types of every piece of code that you write so you don't have to baby sit the compiler, yet you get the benefits of static typing. Functions are first class objects so you can build abstractions without writing useless glue code. The language is elegant and has plenty of syntactic sugar that makes it a pleasure to work with. It even has libraries for things you may want to do in a real world project. So why wouldn't you want to pick Haskell for your projects?"

There are a lot of great programming languages out there. But having a great language alone will not be able to get people to program in it. There must be the tools to help you be productive in it. No matter how many lines of code savings you could potentially shave from a more expressive language, the returns are not going to be all that great if you have to invest the time to write your own libraries for common tasks. It's actually kind of like a catch-22: people cannot really start using the language unless there are good libraries for it; but libraries will not be written if they aren't enough people using it.

One of the reasons for Java's success was backing from Sun Microsystems. They had this incipient language out in 1995 when C++ was still reigning champ of programming languages. However, Java was quickly bundled with lots of libraries that worked together nicely. There was the GUI layer, the enterprise architecture, the sound, etc. At that time, none of the libraries was particularly mature yet but Java was able to entice people who were already were tired of trying to find out how to get different libraries to work together.

In the article by defmacro, he also lists another tool that is missing for esoteric languages: a good IDE. A normal text editor - as Vim and Emacs users will tell you - is sufficient for most tasks. But what happens when you need to write lots of code in different packages? Actually, Vim and Emacs are great because of the underlying unix tool support that is built-in. For instance, ctags and cscope really help make a project easier to navigate and Vim and Emacs have support for them. However, ctags and cscope do not support a lot of languages. For people who are spoilt with all the features from an IDE, using a normal text editor that just offers syntax highlighting is barely going to be fun.

It's hard to get people to abandon their mindset of what a development environment should be. Most people are already used to the idea of having a debugger, IDE, good reference and libraries at their fingertips for serious productions work. So, if esoteric languages want to really take off some of these things that people take for granted have to be offered first.

But then again, esoteric languages might not really want to take off. True, you can use Erlang and Haskell and Forth and ... in everyday situations but that might not be the original intentions of those languages. All I am saying is that certain languages were not created to be mainstream languages. They function well in their own little niche and the few people who use it are already happy with the tools that are provided.

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