Ada still needs to prove itself in mainstream

DDC-I says its Ada programming language, first developed exclusively for military applications, can meet or surpass the performance of popular languages such as C++ and Java.

But there is doubt in the industry that there is room for yet another language in the mainstream market.

Ada was developed in early ’80s and mandated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as its official programming language. The mandate was lifted in 1997, and its use was expected to decrease within the software community. What happened, however, was just the opposite, said Joyce Tokar, vice-president of technology at Phoenix-based DDC-I.

“The language has been refreshed. In 1995, the new Ada standard came out …and has adapted to the changes in the world of programming language,” she said, noting there’s been recent interest in the software from mission-critical industries such as aviation, manufacturing and medical.

“It has object-oriented capabilities and those kinds of things. And with that, the community has continued to use the language – and now it’s actually moving into commercial areas that are not necessarily mission critical.”

Susan Hansen, public affairs officer at the Department of Defense in Washington, said the mandate to use Ada exclusively was lifted because the department saw the benefit of other, mainstream languages.

“[Ada] was developed several decades ago, before the inception of a number of other languages, so that we could have some uniformity in development for the defense department,” she said.

“But now we’ve found that there are many commercial products that can meet military needs.”

According to Tokar, however, Ada offers many features that no other programming languages have, such as compile-time checking capabilities.

“It checks for the consistency of interfaces between program modules, at compile time, whereas in many other languages that is something that is done at execution time.”

This allows the programmer to find and correct errors in a more timely manner, and the modularity of the language also makes it well suited to Internet applications, because it is easy to maintain long-term, she explained.

A software engineer at a Massachusetts-based networking company – who preferred not to be named – said his company chose Ada over more traditional languages to develop its application directed switch product, because of its reliability, its real-time capabilities and its ability to support strong typing.

“We are capable of reading deeper into message packets. As a consequence, we are able to detect the source, destination and application that sent that message — and determine the priority of that message — all at wire speed,” he explained.

“Over 90 per cent of the software in our switch is written in Ada, (because) it’s a language that was oriented in real time – C++ and Java were not.”

Despite this, Dave Kelly, vice-president of application strategies at Framingham, Mass.-based Hurwitz Group Inc., is sceptical that Ada will ever be a serious contender for mainstream development.

“Ada has not gotten significant acceptance outside the military establishment, and it would be very hard for it to make significant inroads as a programming language,” Kelly said.

“Even though it is a robust, proven language, there’s just no shelf space in the market for it – enterprises are not going to accept yet another language.”