Problems spark interest in scripting

Many are struggling with the need to integrate multiple platforms, application components and locations. Internet protocols, message queuing and Java all offer some avenues to address the issue, but keep your eyes on another potential path to solve those woes — scripting languages.

Some of my favourites are Perl, Python, and Tcl (pronounced tickle, as in making people laugh). I’ve got some breaking news about Tcl, but I’ll get to that in just a moment.

These languages expand the dimensions of graphical interfaces and simplify complicated command-line work. You can create GUIs with scripting languages, and use them to automate a series of command-line tasks.

Scripting languages are not new. They’ve been used in Internet settings for some time, and have been widely adopted by the open source community. However, recent changes have proven that scripting is capable of providing strategic corporate value.

Scripting languages have strong appeal due to the wide array of platforms that they embrace. Enhancements I expect to see during the next year make me think that scripting may become the glue that could link cross-platform application components — along with processes and people.

I recently spoke with John Ousterhout, the creator of Tcl. He gave me some exclusive news about the release of TclPro 1.1. His company, Scriptics (, has been freely distributing Tcl for some time to the development community. He estimates that between 500,000 and one million developers are currently using Tcl.

One of TclPro’s pluses is its support for the Linux and SGI platforms.

“We had been inundated with requests for a Linux version of TclPro,” Ousterhout said.

TclPro 1.1 is significant because it blends together the open source Tcl language with a commercial development tool suite. You’ll have to pay for TclPro, but it will include full commercial support; and Scriptics will continue to distribute the core Tcl language for free via its Web site.

TclPro 1.1 includes the core Tcl platform along with four tools — a debugger, source code checker, a compiler and a tool to create self-contained Tcl applications. Scriptics also includes selected extensions with TclPro.

The company has plans to offer proprietary extensions that will provide expanded integration capabilities for developers. I find this especially appealing for integrating application components across disparate platforms. Some extensions Scriptics is examining include CORBA, ActiveX and XML; the company will consider other requests.

I’m also intrigued by a relative newcomer, the REBOL language. REBOL stands for Relative Expression-Based Object Language, and is pronounced “rebel,” as in Star Wars. I recently spent some time working with REBOL 1.02 and speaking with Carl Sassenrath, its creator and the founder of REBOL Technologies. I was impressed with the simplicity of REBOL and how easy it is to learn. Sassenrath refers to REBOL as a “network messaging language.” REBOL is platform- and operating system-independent and fully supports Internet protocols. Like Tcl, REBOL is ideal for integrating processes and components in cross-platform settings.

REBOL follows the open source model in that it can be downloaded for free. No commercial support is presently available, but there is some assistance via and e-mail. Though REBOL is rather young compared with other languages, I expect you’ll see it mature rather quickly. Much like Scriptics’ TclPro, REBOL will provide commercial development tools for the language some time in 1999. The core language will still be distributed for free.

Both Tcl and REBOL can be useful in a wide array of application settings. Companies are using these languages to automate testing, drive electronic-commerce, filter e-mail, generate dynamic Web sites and more. For example, the REBOL Web site is written entirely in REBOL. I like the idea of using languages such as Tcl and REBOL to link platforms, processes, components and users.

— IDG News Service