The latest language from the company once identified for its programming languages seeks to bring a higher class of developer into the Web apps space, without changing the foundation of the Web… even if such a change wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
As with so much else on the Web, platform engineers are largely of the mindset that it’s too late to do much about it now. The exceptions are companies whose backbones still have some swagger to them, especially in the face of something new called “competition.” While Microsoft has been taking fewer risks quantitatively of late, the risks it does take have been bigger: the Start Screen in Windows 8, the expansion of Xbox into a media platform, the splicing of Windows Phone with Windows PC, the abandonment of Silverlight in favor of WinRT.
One Giant Step Up From Level II BASIC
Microsoft’s introduction of TypeScript is not that big, and is not really a risk. In terms of product, it’s a free Visual Studio add-on (downloadable here) that enables more learned, professional developers to adopt more formal approaches in producing code for the Web. In terms of marketing, it’s a nearly no-cost way for Microsoft to put its stake in the ground in territory Google has been working to claim for itself.
Making The Editor The Enforcer
But for developers to get behind any language – even a supplemental one – they need a rich development environment that understands it natively, as rich as Eclipse for Java. Progress on that front for Dart has been mixed, which is not uncharacteristic of projects at Google.
By comparison, TypeScript has the virtue of inserting itself into an development environment that’s already somewhat rich: Visual Studio. Once the add-on is plugged in, VS 2012 recognizes TypeScript as a formal file type.
Then as you’re developing the script, as this sample from VS 2012 shows, the editor keeps track of the proper types of each variable, even when in this case, it has yet to be assigned a value. Here, pointing to member function getDist() reveals a tip showing it to be a function (the closed parentheses) whose return value is of type number.
Insert Devious Plot Here
If Microsoft is guilty of falling into any familiar pattern with TypeScript, it’s that it’s not the first product in its class. What TypeScript has going for it, though, is no particularly good reason not to be adopted by Web apps developers, except for the possibility of a preferable alternative. Standards are for communications systems and interfaces; options are for people. TypeScript is one more option, and in my view so far, a sensible one.