It's clear JS was essential to the 'Ajax' or 'Web 2.0' revolution. I would say Firefox, Safari, and renewed browser competition, and the renewed Web standards activities they spawned, were also important.
But JS had to be sufficiently capable as a precondition for all of this progress to occur, even in the older Internet Explorer browser versions (IE5.5, IE6), which were barely maintained by Microsoft for the first five years of the new millennium. So JS was the tap root.
These 'vibes' seem to me to be a mix of:
-- Early objections to the idea of a scripting language embedded in HTML.
-- Appropriate rejection of the annoyance features JS enabled (and lack of sane controls, e.g. over pop-ups, until browsers such as Firefox came along).
-- Confusion of DOM incompatibilities among browsers, which caused developer pain, with the generally more compatible JS implementations, which caused much less (but non-zero) pain.
These negative vibes are understandable. JS is the only example of a programming language that must interoperate at Web scale (wider than any other platform), on multiple operating systems and in many competing browsers. Other programming languages supported by browser plugins come from single vendors, who can control interoperation better by single-sourcing the implementation. Therefore JS and the DOM it controls have been a rough interoperation ride for Web developers.
It did not help that Netscape and Microsoft fought a browser war that forced premature standardization after a furious period of innovation, and which ended with way too many years of neglect of JS and other Web standards under the IE monopoly.
On the up side, many developers profess to like programming in JS, and it has experienced a true renaissance since 2004 and the advent of 'Web 2.0' or 'Ajax' programming.
It's clear the client side of the Web standards deserves programmability, as Marc Andreessen and I envisioned in 1995. The desktop and mobile computers of the world have plenty of cycles and storage to do useful tasks (more now than ever), without having to restrict their automation capabilities to submitting forms or sending messages to real programs running on Web servers. Real programs run in browsers too, and they are written in JS.
The impact of JS is only increasing, as it becomes the standard for scripting not only in the browser, but on the desktop and in devices such as the iPhone.
The Apple hype machine has certainly made some folks treat these as the second coming of Ajax. To me they are in a continuum of evolving JS libraries and frameworks, including Google GWT and such popular libraries as Dojo, JQuery, YUI, and Prototype. I don't particularly expect any one winner to take all, at least not for years, and then only in parts of the Web. On certain devices, of course, you may have essentially no choice, but the Web is wider than any one device, however popular.
Do you think that we are likely to see the death of desktop applications?
No, but I think you will see more desktop applications written using Web technologies, even if they are not hosted in a Web server. And of course Web apps will continue to proliferate. With the evolution of JS and other browser-based Web standards, we'll see Web apps capable of more interactions and performance feats that formerly could be done only by desktop apps. We are already seeing this with offline support, canvas 2D and 3D rendering, etc. in the latest generation of browsers.
Flash is doing its part to be a good 'Ajax' citizen, to be scriptable from JS and addressable using URLs -- to be a component on the page along with other components, whether plugins, built-in objects such as images or tables, or purely JS objects. The open Web levels everything upward, and militates against single-vendor lock-in. You can see this in how Flash has evolved to play well in the Web 2.0 world, and Microsoft's Silverlight also aims to integrate well into the modern Web-standards world.
People fear a return to proprietary, single-vendor plug-ins controlling the entire Web page and user experience, but I doubt that will happen all over the Web.
First, Web standards in the cutting edge browsers are evolving to compete with Flash and Silverlight on video, animation, high-performance JS, and so on.
Second, no Web site will sacrifice 'reach' for 'bling', and plug-ins always lack reach compared to natively-implemented browser Web standards such as JS. Users do not always update their plugins, and users reject plugins while continuing to trust and use browsers.
Certainly in the browser, but also beyond it, in servers and as an end-to-end programming language (as well as in more conventional 'desktop' or 'operating system' scripting roles).
Do you still think that (as you once said): "ECMAScript was always an unwanted trade name that sounds like a skin disease"?
I don't think about this much, but sure: it's not a desired name and it does sound a bit like eczema.
Do you still expect ECMA-262 to be ready by October 2008? Do you expect the new version to be backwards incompatible at all?
If you mean the 4th Edition of ECMA-262, no: we do not expect that in 2008, and right now the technical committee responsible (Ecma TC39) is working together to harmonize proposals for both a near-term (Spring 2009) "3.1" edition of ECMAScript, and a more expansive (but not too big) follow-on edition, which we've been calling the 4th edition.
Has the evolution and popularity of JS surprised you in anyway?
The popularity has surprised me. I was resigned for a long time to JS being unpopular due to those annoying popups, but more: due to its unconventional combination of functional and prototype-based object programming traditions. But it turns out that programmers, some who started programming with JS, others seasoned in the functional and dynamic OOP languages of the past, actually like this unconventional mix.
The combination of first-class functions and object prototypes. I would not say it's perfect, especially as standardized (mistakes were added, as well as amplified, by standardization). But apart from the glitches and artifacts of rushing, the keystone concepts hang together pretty well after all these years.
Where do you see computer programming languages heading in the future, particularly in the next 5 to 20 years?
There are two big problems facing all of us which require better programming languages:
Multicore/massively-parallel computers that are upon us even now, on the desktop, and coming soon to mobile devices. Computer scientists are scrambling to make up for the lack of progress in the last 15 years making parallel computing easier and more usable. JS has its role to play in addressing the multicore world, starting with relatively simple extensions such as Google Gears' worker pools -- "shared nothing" background threads with which browser JS communicates by sending and receiving messages.
Security. A programming language cannot create or guarantee security by itself, since security is a set of 'end to end' or 'system' properties, covering all levels of abstraction, including above and below the language. But a programming language can certainly give its users better or worse tools for building secure systems and proving facts about those security properties that can be expressed in the language.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming programmers?
Study the classics: Knuth, Wirth, Hoare. Computer science is a wheel, which rotates every 10-20 years in terms of academic research focus. Much that was discovered in the early days is still relevant. Of course great work has been done more recently, but from what I can tell, students get more exposure to the recent stuff, and almost none to the giants of the past.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Not now, I'm out of time and have to get back to work!