Eighteen months after I started this site, the Modern Perl book is almost out, as is Using Perl 6. Perl 5.10.1, Perl 5.12.0, Perl 5.12.1, and (very nearly) Perl 5.12.2 are out, with Perl 5.14 coming next spring (not month, as I mistakenly typed). Spring means, of course, April or May 2011. (Sorry, southern hemisphere; you should elect a volunteer release manager.)
Rakudo Star has had two impressive releases, which brings Perl 6 to ever more people. The Parrot VM had its 1.0 and 2.0 and 2.3 and 2.6 releases, and if you want an order of magnitude performance improvement in Rakudo Perl 6, the Parrot 3.0 series will deliver some impressive gains through the Lorito reorganization.
I've spent a lot of time critiquing the Perl language and community and even more time critiquing perceptions of Perl from within and without. I'm glad to review what's going right. It's easy to make a list of great new features of Perl and the community, but I can limit it to my favorites, in terms of immediate and longer-term significance.
By no means are these the only important developments in Perl in the past 18 months; please by all means let us all know what you find most important in your own journals and talks and presentations.
- The revitalization of Perl 5 core development has amazed me. Regular monthly releases have become boring, as they should be. A rotating series of release managers helps avoid the burnout that's claimed every Perl 5 pumpking up to this point, and it helps to make the process of releasing a new stable version of Perl 5 easier. That's why you can have confidence upgrading to Perl 5.12.2 when it comes out, and why in a year Perl 5.10.1 will look old.
- I've wanted Plack for Perl for ages; I've long thought Python's WSGI is a good example of the "There should be one obvious way to do it philosophy" (it works much better for interfaces to well-defined problem domains than language features). The rapid adoption of Plack for so many web frameworks and libraries within Perl—as well as the number of backends supported by Plack—has solved many of the deployment problems of Perl web applications. It also allows greater collaboration on middleware, such as debugging and profiling tools.
- Ancillary tools such as perlbrew and cpanminus have demonstrated that very simple interfaces devoted to solving the most common problems can improve the user experience immensely. I've known how to maintain my own user- and app-specific Perl 5 installations for years, but I've never wanted to maintain the morass of symlinks necessary to do so. Now I don't have to. Similarly, cpanminus lets me install CPAN modules often in the time it takes the official CPAN client to download the indexes.
- Regular releases of the first Perl 6 distribution (Rakudo Star) demonstrate the power and consistency and disruptive potential of Perl 6 to even more people. Every month brings new features and improvements. Every bug report and new module written and benchmark help the development community make it an even better platform for new projects.
- Schwern made the CPAN forkable through gitPAN, and the world is better for it. Public distributed version control for Perl 5 improves the experience of submitting changes, and public distributed version control for CPAN distributions has helped me submit and publish more changes too. Noticing a typo in documentation on search.cpan.org has become almost an enjoyable experience, if I can find the appropriate repository on Github, fork it, make my changes, and submit a pull request within five minutes. Often I can.
I look forward to several other projects in the world of Perl, such as Ryan Jendoubi's Ctypes for Perl 5 and the ongoing attempts in the Perl 5 core to rein in a sane set of functions for extensions to use. I've heard that various help forums have become more helpful and less abusive (especially
#perl on irc.perl.org). I've even noticed a shift in how community members talk about marketing, especially as the discussion has changed from "Marketing? That's for those sick Java fans!" to "Hey, look at all of the cool stuff we're doing with Perl!"
We can and should still make improvements, but if the past year and a half is any guide, we can safely shift our cautious optimism for the present and future of Perl to regular optimism.