Last August, I wrote about speculation that Perl is becoming a dead language. Books on it have long since disappeared from the bookstore shelves, and O’Reilly publishers, who once published scores of books on Perl (many of which I own), haven’t really come up with any significant new publication since at least 2005. I know that Programming Perl, the so-called “camel book” has a fourth edition in print since 2012, but that is mostly about it. Anyone looking for updates in “Intermediate Perl”, “Perl In a Nutshell”, the “Perl Cookbook”, and other mainstays of anyone’s Perl collection have to subsist on old editions prior to 2004 or as early as 1999. This even takes into account electronic editions. There were two bioinformatics books on Perl that I have and wanted updates on. One, “Beginning Perl for Bioinformatics”, is out of print; and the other, “Bioinformatics Computer Skills”, is available, but has not had any new editions in the past dozen years.
I am asking that as a question. I was beginning to think it was, after noticing a marked reduction in Perl textbooks in the computer sections of bookstores lately. That is a disappointment, as I liked the language, and it is important in my volunteer work.
Then, I got curious, and did a Google search of blog discussions on the rumors of Perl’s death (or at least rumors that the odour has intensified in the past year or so), and there has been considerable discussion over that year with supporters and detractors both claiming their side. Perl has moved up to about 5.16.0 as of this writing, with Perl 6.0 being proposed. Perl 6 is intended to be a new implementation of Perl, with new syntax, and thus a new learning curve. It has been in development for at least a year, and apparently not ready for big-time yet.
In that light, I can see a reason for booksellers to clear their shelves of their old Perl 5.x books, and waiting for the Godot of Perl 6 to arrive. Meanwhile what has been filling up the shelves are books on PHP, AJAX, Ruby and Python. That’s not bad news, really. I’m not authority on Ruby, but Python is a great Swiss army knife of a language. Ajax is widely used on the web, and will be used more in the future. PHP? There are more elegant languages for the web, but PHP is currently the lingua franca of the blogosphere, including the language driving this blog.
Perl will have its day again; it’s just that we shall need to wait for its release to see what great stuff it can do, and if it is that different from other Perl versions, can it co-exist with older Perl versions?