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I titled it with my opinion so hopefully no one will think this is the gospel or confuses me with an expert :)
I love Perl and have been using it since 1996 at my work for administrative tasks as well as web based products. I use Perl on Unix and Windows based machines for numerous tasks.
Before I get in depth about the decline let me give a little background of myself. I got my first computer in 1981, a TRS-80 Model III 4 MHz Z80 processor, 16K RAM, no HD, no FD, just a cassette tape sequential read/write for storage and retrieval. The TRS-80 line allowed for assembler or BASIC programs to be run on it. I programmed in both BASIC and assembler, but most BASIC since I had limited memory and using the tape became very annoying. Lets time warp forward to 1987 when Perl was first released.
The introduction of Perl was not household knowledge; the use of computers in the home was still considerably low. Those that did have computers most likely did very specific tasks; such as bring work home from the office. So it is fairly safe to say that Perl was not targeted at inexperienced computer users, but more to system administrators and boy did system administrators love it. Now lets time warp ahead to 1994.
1994 marked what I consider the start of the rush to the WWW (not the internet) and it was the birth year of Perl 5 and DBI. The WWW brought to use the ability to easily link to any other site/document/page via hypertext markup language or as we like to say, HTML. This "new" idea caused created a stir in the non-tech world for the first time. The WWW, as HTML progressed, started to make using and knowing about computers a little less geek. Most servers were UNIX based and as the needs for dynamic content or form handling grew what language was there to assist? Perl. So Perl became, in a way, the default web language for people that hadn't been entrenched in programming another CGI capable language and just wanted to process a form, create a flat file data store, etc. that is non-techies.
Perl served us all well, but on the horizon were the competitors. The web had proven itself not to be a flash in the pan, but a tool through which commerce and social interaction could take new form and allow people that had never considered using a computer before a reason to purchase one. So the big software and hardware giants looked for ways to gain control over the web and the Internet in general. There were even smaller players that were Open Source and freeware just like Perl.
So by 2000 there were several mature choices for Internet development and Perl was a drift in the sea of choice. I also see 2000 as the year the tide went out for Internet development in general. The "rush" had subsided, companies and investor started to really analyze what they had done and what the new media really offered to them. Along with analyzing comes consultants. Consultants have an interest in researching or developing the best product possible for a company. The company is interested in that when they terminate the contract with the consultant that they will be able to maintain what they bought. This brings us to the rub on Perl. How can a consultant convince a company that his application language of choice is free and isn't backed by a company? ActiveState I believe backs Perl to some extent, but one company generally isn't enough to put a CTO at ease.
So the decline of Perl use can be summarized with these facts:
I suppose all of this really only matter to people that don't make their living extending Perl or using it for system admin work that isn't approved by a board or committee. People that make final products based on Perl for the Internet and as standalone applications are effected by the myths and facts of Perl.
Last year a possible opportunity I had to produce a complete package for a large telecommunications firm failed in part due to lack of confidence in Perl as the language of choice, despite the fact that two districts had been successfully using the prototype and increased efficiency.
Another factor is the overseas development services. My most recent employer had a subsidiary in India with 30 developers. Training for Perl was unheard of. There were signs literally everywhere for C++ , C# and Java, but no mention of Perl. It seems Perl is used for down and dirty utilities not full scale applications.
Maybe Perl isn't "supposed" to be for large-scale applications, but I think it can be and I think it's more then mature enough and supported to provide a corporation with a robust and wise long-term solution.
I am very interested in your opinions about why you feel Perl is or isn't gaining ground.