When Do Computer Languages Die?

Unless we think, as in a popular movie, that "Death is only the beginning", computer languages don't die, as long as people continue using them.

Contrary to what many people think, a computer language is not "dead" or "outdated" simply because it was originated many years ago.

These are the years in which some popular computer languages were born:

  • C: 1972. Used in the majority of computer software. 
  • Java: 1995. One of the youngest.
  • Fortran: 1957. Widely used in scientific and engineering communities.Believe it or not.
  • Pascal: 1970. Object Pascal comes from this, and is from 1986.
  • Cobol: 1959. One of the oldest, but Cobol programmers continue using it in business applications.
  • JavaScript: 1995. Everybody uses JavaScript.
  • BASIC: 1964. Visual Basic: 1991.

You see that all these languages are from 50 to 14 years old.

Comparing to these, the first VRML is from 1994, and X3D is from 2004.

This is a graphic that shows the growth of forum posts listed in BoardReader for X3D:

x3d trends

And this is the graph for VRML:

vrml trends

Comparing the popularity of both languages, you can see, looking to the numbers on the left, that VRML is 3 times more popular than X3D.

This is something that Web3D should think about. Being much more older, people still use VRML much more than X3D. People don't see real advantages in their day-to-day to switch to X3D. And X3D has not reached the popularity of VRML. We may discuss the reasons in a future article.

If we go to Google trends and compare the popularity of VRML and X3D in searches, we get:

vrml x3d trends 

You can see that the searches that look for VRML are more than X3D. Curiously, in the year of launch of X3D, what people searched most was VRML. I think the reason is because there was no abundance of info and content about X3D, so people searched for VRML.

The bad news is again that X3D has been unable to reach the popularity of VRML in searches.

The graph also displays how X3D appears more often in the news but VRML still is more popular.

And if we contrast VRML and ActiveWorlds, we see that VRML is still more popular. We also see that the re-birth of ActiveWorlds can be noticed since 2007, as the "news reference volume" for AW grows.

ActiveWorlds is considered as a living and modern platform for virtual worlds, a technology that is very veteran but still very competitive. Why then, being more popular, is VRML considered as something from the past?

vrml aw

And finally, compared to Second Life:

vrml second life

Considering the enormous popularity of Second Life, this is a great achievement for VRML.

Second Life has passed through a similar cycle as VRML. In the beginning, everybody hyped about it, reached a top, and a demystification and criticism.

Now, Second Life has reached its maturity, and begins a stable level of popularity, because it reached a critical mass.

You can see that VRML reached this critical mass long time ago, and the line is straight. The same for the volume of news that reference to VRML, that keep a stable level.

There's more. Any decent 3D application exports to VRML, and it is still one of the main formats in science and architectural visualization.

In addition to all the exciting contents of Hiperia3D News, I will feature from time to time the comments that also appear on Twitter about VRML and X3D. These also offer some interesting information, and may be valued by VRML fans.

Big numbers of people got great satisfaction since its beginning saying that VRML was dead. Now we know they were not right.



Most of the computer languages that we use are very old. And as I said, a computer language is not "dead" or "outdated" simply because it was originated many years ago,.

The lesson that we get from this study is that a language (or a technology) is not dead if people continue using it.

Another lesson: people may choose to keep on using an old version of a technology. The reasons may be that the new one does not offer advantages for most people, or they are just ignorant of them, or the new one has something that discourages its use.

So if you liked VRML, next time that someone tells you that it is a dead technology, just say them that it is still mentioned, used and loved by a huge part of humanity.

-Jordi R. Cardona-

© 2008 by Jordi R. Cardona. Link to this post without copying the text.

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tutancamon said...

Applications are used ? Then their language are used ...

ctrain said...

I agree that VRML is easier to break into as a 3D descriptive language. Further, I see it as a platform to spring board off of into understanding X3D better. The only real advantages I know of so far of X3D over VRML is profiles. X3D is not meant to be used for just *one* type of application, like virtual worlds. Since 3D has a very wide range of applications, from simple model viewing, to completely interactive worlds, hence the need for profiles to restrict functionality at varying levels.

That, and the fact that metadata can be included in X3D, whereas VRML cannot, is obviously an important part of being able to search 3D content. I would encourage people to use X3D for this glaringly obvious reason.

ctrain said...

I mean, it doesn't take that much effort to realize 3D is becoming so pervasive on the internet that if anyone wants to drive traffic to their "new" 3D site among all the other "new" 3D sites, people have to find it somehow.

Jordi R Cardona said...

I agree with you. X3D has many new nodes, the extensibility and all that. And for those who find the xml syntax confusing, the classic VRML syntax works great.
There is a big need of tutorials, courses and over all that a huge promotion and marketing campaign to promote the use of X3D.

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