I went to the Groovy meetup yesterday in San Fransisco and I can tell you that the primary effect on me was to get me all geeked up again for Groovy. Now I don't want to leave the wrong impression, I wasn't upset with Groovy at all or anything. What I will say is that I thought that the excitement in the room was palpable and I definitely feel that Groovy is finally coming out of its 2004 pre-JSR malaise and really about to achieve its potential. Now I know being in a hotel conference room with a bunch of people who are obviously Groovy partisans does not a trend or good prediction make but I defend the statement on two grounds. One, my gut feel is not solely based on what I sensed yesterday, but rather based on what I have seen on the net and experienced as a Java developer working with Groovy. If you are a Java developer and well aware of its pain points, how can groovy not appeal to you, I mean really? Second, its my opinion, which I am entitled to have and be wrong about (which I don't believe I am wrong in this case).
One of the points that Guillaume, the Groovy project manager, brought up in his presentation, was the improvement of the performance of the 1.5+ Groovy runtime. I can say, without equivocation, that the improvement in performance is indeed extraordinary. In fact, he left out of his presentation the area that I think that Groovy 1.5+ has improved most on, was compiler performance. I would put compiler performance improvement to be on the order of magnitude better. Now I do not have any micro-benchmarks or pseudo statistics to back me up, but I will say that this is my gut feel based on my experience with Groovy Monkey. On the machine I currently use for my work (Windows Server 2003/Quad Core/8 GB RAM/IBM JVM 5.0/Eclipse 3.4M5), I would say that before Groovy 1.5, the scripts I would write that would invoke other monkey scripts, could be very very slow, on the order of a couple of minutes or more. Now those same scripts are running like well under 30 seconds and this result is not based on any changes to Groovy Monkey or any of the underlying platform. All I can say is wow!
I do have a comment on a slightly bitter note. I am a committer to the Groovy Eclipse project and it pained me to hear how it was mentioned that the plugin was more of a impediment than an asset to Groovy's adoption. I will admit that I myself began to get frustrated with it (and there are still some frustrations) a couple of months back. Still with the newer Groovy runtime and the latest submissions to at least the development version of the plugin, it is a far far better product.
Still there is the point that even with the latest improvements that the Groovy Eclipse plugin is still lagging significantly IDE support from IntelliJ. First off I want to mention, congrats to IntelliJ. Even though I am primarily an Eclipse developer, I am probably going to try it out just to see the Groovy support and this is a point to which I want to get back to. Still both IntelliJ and NetBeans have people working full time on the Groovy IDE support, which is great for people using those platforms, not so great for the vast numbers of developers using Eclipse. The point I want to drive home is that, as I have learned from personal experience, IDE integration is both vital to the success of a language or framework and hard to do. Now I may fiddle around with IntelliJ (or even, *gasp* NetBeans) to try out their Groovy support, but do you really think that the vast legion of Java developers using Eclipse are really going to take a hard look at Groovy without first class IDE support? I don't believe so and I would think that just about everyone would agree with me on this point.
So how do you address this? Simple, there needs to be a small group of well motivated and competent Groovy and Eclipse plugin developers that can be dedicated full time to Groovy Eclipse. In my experience, only people working full time focused on IDE support could give Groovy Eclipse that first class spit and polish which can impress developers trying Groovy for this first time. I mean, Project Zero and Scott Hickey's work with Mutual of Omaha has contributed much to the plugin and there are some nice contributions being made currently by people in their free time, but this is not their primary focus. Even though the plugin continues to evolve under current circumstances, this would not compare with the strides that could be made by people working full time. Are you listening Guillaume, Mr. Guan, others, anybody?? I mean there has some buzz about Groovy being the next version of Java and I know that Guillaume and others have stated that there is no intention of Groovy replacing Java, but can you imaging Groovy reaching its potential without great Eclipse IDE support? I know that I just repeated that point from earlier, but it bears repeating.
Back to the meetup
Now back to the Groovy meetup. I would also like to point out that I was much impressed with the presentation from the folks at Linked In. I am already a user of their product and I am even more impressed to the degree to which they appear to be driven from the Engineering perspective. Besides, they are really starting to use Groovy and Grails in anger! How cool is that man? I love the fact that they and, I believe it was, Sky television are showing that Grails is like RoR, but with stability and scalability added at no extra charge. That is so cool and can demonstrate how getting better IDE support for both Groovy and Grails could make such a difference.
I am looking forward to the future of Groovy and crossing my fingers that there wont be too much backward compatibility breaking between now and Groovy 2.0.