Take a look at the November 2008 TIOBE index top ten:
Position Position Programming Ratings Delta Nov
Nov 2008 Nov 2007 Language Nov 2008 2007
1 1 Java 20.299% -0.24%
2 2 C 15.276% +1.31%
3 4 C++ 10.357% +1.61%
4 3 (Visual) Basic 9.270% -0.96%
5 5 PHP 8.940% +0.25%
6 7 Python 5.140% +0.91%
7 8 C# 4.026% +0.11%
8 11 Delphi 4.006% +1.55%
9 6 Perl 3.876% -0.86%
Yes, I know TIOBE has some issues. If you think it can be dismissed because of that, you're part of the problem.
Perl comes in after Delphi? We've still a ways to go before being knocked out of the top ten, but we have an *excellent* chance of this happening in the next year. Last year I seem to recall mentioning on the TPF steering committee list that Perl had been in the top ten of this list for years and was likely to remain that way. We were number six on the list and we weren't going anywhere.
I was wrong. Now I realize that there are those who think this is a non-issue and Tim Bunce has been doing a great job of fighting the FUD because he has the temerity to (gasp) use data. However, that's not enough.
Perl is in danger of falling out of TIOBE's Top Ten for the first time in its history and that's going to make news. And regardless of our biases, we all know of managers/programmers/venture capitalists who are happy to decide based on headlines rather than real data. Here at the BBC, it's no secret that there was serious talk amongst management and some programmers about completely eliminating Perl internally. We couldn't, partially for the same reason insurance companies and banks can't get rid of COBOL. The fact that Java is not a substitute for Perl has helped. The fact that Ruby on Rails doesn't scale has helped. When a scalable substitute with available developers (you Seaside fanatics put your hands down) crops up, Perl could be in trouble here -- aside from that pesky COBOL syndrome.
IE is facing stiff competition from Firefox because once Microsoft beat Netscape, they rested on their laurels. Hell, once Microsoft beat Apple and thought Apple would stay down, Microsoft stopped developing IE for the Mac! Java was facing stiff competition from C# because they rested on their laurels. C# being Microsoft-only is the only reason Java is still so strong, but even this has brought much needed changes to Java. Perl is facing stiff competition for the exact same reason that Microsoft and Sun are. Because we failed to innovate, we're now playing catch up -- just like IE and Java. 5.10, and perhaps 5.12, are too little, too late. I believe that outside of the COBOL syndrome, Perl 5 is in danger of having no serious long-term future.
The technical world is evolving and we're fighting tooth-and-nail to not evolve (anyone remember seeing people sneer at the "REST fad"?). Perl 6 might save us. I don't think Perl 5 can, but remember, it's just a pile of code. What I'm really saying is that the Perl community as it currently exists cannot save Perl 5. We're reinventing the language. We need to reinvent the community.