Monday, July 28, 2003

Computer Languages: One Giant Step Backward

There are a series of letters in the current issue of Communications of the ACM on an article written a couple of months ago on the value of domain oriented computer languages. COBOL and FORTRAN have yet to be replaced because of their dominance in specific domains. Large scale efforts like PL1 an Ada have been dismal failures. Today's few general purpose languages are not well suited to describing financial and mathematical analysis domains. Some veteran programmers are moving toward scripting languages like Python that allow easy implementation of solutions that you would never bother to program in C++, or Ruby, an elegant implementation of objects that would make a Smalltalk programmer smile. Get in on the language debate by checking out:

Communications of the ACM
Volume 46, Number 5 (May 2003), Pages 21-23
Practical programmer: One giant step backward
Robert L. Glass

Old saying: "The more things change, the more they remain the same" ...or do they?

It is common for software developers to talk about the rapid change of pace in our field. We say things like "It's hard to keep up with all the things that are happening," and make apologies for not being up to date on the latest whatever. I've been guilty of that myself, on occasion.

But do you know what? I don't really believe it. Almost not a word of it. Except for various vendor products, such as tools and processes, the things I learned in software kindergarten, way back in the 1950s, are for the most part still valid today.

Computer hardware developers, I would assert, have made great strides in moving their field forward over the years. Smaller/faster/cheaper is almost a mantra of their fast-paced field. We software folk, by contrast, tend to build software in the same old ways. Reuse? Libraries were common in the 1950s. Coupling/cohesion and information hiding? We knew about those back then, too, although we didn't call them that. Programming languages and operating systems? The field didn't begin with them, but by the late 1950s (way back in those dark ages!) they were very common.


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