MLstate’s OPA: A better way to build cloud apps

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Credit: Barb Darrow

MLState CEO and Founder Henri Binsztok

Paris is a great place to start a business. Heck, Paris is just a great place, period. But Henri Binsztok says it’s a particularly great spot to work with programming languages given its rich computer language DNA. Pascal, Eiffel, Prolog and ADA — a key language used by the U.S. Defense Department — all started in Paris. So did JBoss, the popular Java framework now owned by Red Hat (s rhat). So did Opa, the language Binsztok’s company MLState brought to life and that has since evolved into a JavaScript framework that aims to streamline the creation of clean, bug-free JavaScript code at the server and client.

MLstate, now with 10 employees, will soon expand to the Bay area, as Binsztok tries to gain critical mass for the Opa, one of the Launchpad finalists at GigaOM Structure 2012 last week.

Opa, which Binsztok likes to call the JBoss of JavaScript, generates Javascript code that runs on mobile devices and Node.js code that runs on servers. But it didn’t start out that way. The Opa language was released on Github a year ago but didn’t hit make any waves for two months until a post on Lambda the Ultimate got someone’s attention. It was then posted to Slashdot and Hacker News and started generating buzz.

Early feedback was positive but the prevailing wisdom was that the Binsztok and team needed to shift technology focus — that it should fully embrace JavaScript at all levels. So Binsztok & co. changed the original syntax to JavaScript, changed the internal database to MongoDB, and (as of last week) changed the back end from an internal technology to the Node.js.

While extremely popular with server-side developers, Node. js is tricky to implement correctly and code often hangs, said Binsztok. “All programs have to be written asynchronously which becomes tedious with big applications and may lead to deadlocks,” he said. The solution to that is to use fibers that allow Node.js code to be written in imperative style. But the use of fibers imposes yet another level of difficulty to the programmer. Opa attacks that by automating the use of fibers with its automatic code-rewriting pass known as “continuation passing style.” It’s all very technical but for laymen, this means that Opa automates a lot of the painstaking busy work programmers would just as soon take a pass on.

Binsztok positions Opa as the enterprise-class framework for Javascript development and now it’s his job to hire people and drive it to that level of adoption.

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