New start-up leverages Scala – a product of EPFL

© Flickr / formalfallacy / Creative Commons

© Flickr / formalfallacy / Creative Commons

Thanks to the raising of three million dollars, Martin Odersky has just created the company Typesafe. This investment will enable the Scala programming language – a promising alternative to Java – to increase its use on the Internet.

Do you speak Scala? Many big companies active on the Web now reply in the affirmative. Twitter, Foursquare , LinkedIn and the internet site of the British newspaper The Guardian ( have adopted this programming language, developed at EPFL by Martin Odersky, Professor in the computer science section of the school.

Last week, its creator announced the launch of a new company, with its offices at the Science Park at Ecublens. It’s called Typesafe, has just raised three million dollars, and will give a serious boost to the Scala language. The main investor in this round of financing – Greylock, based in Boston and in Silicon Valley – is not just any old investor. The company supported Facebook at the time when the social networking site was opening to a mass audience, and had also invested in LinkedIn, from 2004.

Scala is becoming more and more popular with programmers, especially for internet applications. But what’s behind this success? “This language is concise, and enables reductions of on average 50% of the lines of code”, Martin Odersky begins by explaining. What’s more, being very close to Java and completely compatible, it’s very easy to adopt for programmers who are familiar with Java, which has become a true standard on the Internet. Finally, it’s open source, which means that the people who contribute to its development exist in their hundreds, spread across the whole world – although EPFL remains the owner of the copyright.

Leveraging the multiplication of “cores”
One of the strengths of Scala is to combine two approaches that are popular in the programming world. One is “object-oriented” – which has always up to now been preferred by industry – and the other “functional programming”, which has been used mainly in academia. The advantage of the latter is that it’s very efficient when it comes to distribute tasks to several processors working in parallel. “Today, progress in IT is exemplified by the multiplication of the number of ‘cores’ in the processors, and no longer in terms of increases in speed”, explains the Professor. “Creating new applications that take advantage of this aspect of the processors is a natural development in programming.” Another advantage is that this approach is perfectly suited to distributed computing, or “cloud computing”, which is becoming more popular with big companies that are active on the Internet. This approach –concentrating on the distribution of tasks to multiple processors – gives Scala its name (from “scaling”).

With his new company, Martin Odersky is paving the way for the future of computing. Typesafe provides free-of-charge downloading of a pack of software including Scala, a development tool, and also the Akka platform, created in Sweden, whose inventor Jonas Bonér is also a co-founder of Typesafe. Complementary to Scala, Akka is a middleware designed for the distribution of tasks in large computing centers.

In parallel, Typesafe is putting in place a technical support service for its clients. “From around 15 employees today, our team will increase to 25 by the end of the year”, continues Martin Odersky. Most of the employees are developers, working in the EPFL Science Park, Cambridge, Boston – where the company is headquarted – and Uppsala. In just over a couple of weeks, Typesafe will be in the limelight during the second annual « Scala days » event – a meeting of programmers – whose initial occurrence last year at EPFL attracted many specialists.

Typesafe should thus give a real boost to the Scala language. With a smile on his lips, Martin Odersky expresses his confidence that the “really big players” in this domain will soon be joining in. But as for their names, we’ll just have to be patient . . .

Author: Emmanuel Barraud

Source: EPFL