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Google Go Shows Why Programming Languages Need a Killer App

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Red Hat's Mark Little

Mark Little

By Mark Little, VP, Engineering, Red Hat

Often, when people talk about needing a “killer app,” they are talking about something special that can get people to change their habits and/or adopt a technology. Think a game franchise like Halo that prompts people to use a specific video game console, or how many consider bitcoin the driver for blockchain. The same concept can be true of programming languages, so when deciding what development skills to invest in, think about where your customers will be spending in 2018.

It’s not an academic exercise. The last 10 years have seen major shifts in popular programming languages, especially for the enterprise. While JavaScript, Java, C and C++, which have been around for a number of years, continue to remain at the top of programming language popularity lists, newer languages like Apple’s Swift and Google’s Go have been steadily moving up the charts. What separates the likes of Swift and Go from other languages that did not see the same level of traction? Often, it’s being able to find that killer app — or not. The lack of a breakout use case relegated many languages to more specialized applications, and therefore more limited use by enterprise customers.

Consider Google Go, also referred to as golang, which has been around since 2009. It saw an initial bump in popularity at its introduction, according to the TIOBE Index, but really gained popularity only recently. In fact, the TIOBE Index gave Google Go its “Programming Language of the Year” award in 2016 for having the highest rise in ratings in a single year, seven years after its release.

What was golang’s killer app? Linux container technologies. Interest in containers is expanding, as enterprises strive for digital transformation and become mature in their implementations of mobile and cloud technologies. According to Robert Stroud, principal analyst at Forrester Research, 31 percent of enterprise cloud developers in a 2016 survey reported they are deploying containers.

If you’re considering developing your own apps or other intellectual property or have customers struggling with legacy software, consider this: Containers allow developers to package applications in a way that allows these apps to be deployed almost anywhere. Legacy applications can be moved into containers, and then moved on to more modern IT infrastructure or into the cloud, so a company does not need to leave its legacy data behind while modernizing. As more companies begin to deploy containers, I anticipate that more developers will contribute to and use golang, enabling it to continue building up its popularity.

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