Tech Tock

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SlashDon’t. ComputerWhat?

This post on Slashdot completely mischaracterizes a PDC panel discussion.  The post seems to rely exclusively on this article from ComputerWorld which also has a questionable slant on the session.  I was even taken in by this misinformation.

The CW Headline was:

Microsoft’s top developers prefer old-school coding methods

The Slashdot Headline was more pointed: 

Microsoft’s Top Devs Don’t Seem To Like Own Tools

You can watch the session and decide for yourself here.

I watched the session and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Here’s my rebuttal.  Times for the quotes are in parenthesis.

I would agree with CW that the panel was “often humorous”.  With the intro question “What problem is the most important that we face today”.  Don Box said with a wide grin (3:20):

I spend every night wondering how I’m going to make developers fall in love with the database.  There’s man-millennia worth of value in there that we keep wanting to put a prophylactic over so that we don’t get tainted by it.

This great Jim Gray quote related by Butler Lampson (7:50):

Transactions are like fairy dust.  A Cobol programmer writes a piece of business logic.  Its a sequential program, it does some relatively simple state transformation, and then you sprinkle transaction fairy dust on it, and automatically it becomes parallel, it becomes fault tolerant, and it becomes load balanced.

Jeffrey Snover had the audience in stitches unintentionally when he said (10:50):

Software tends to work when it works and fail when it fails.

Butler Lampson (26:16): “The net contribution of RPC to human welfare has been negative.”

Jeffrey Snover’s quote on managed code was much in favor (40:00):

Managed code is like antilock brakes. You used to have to be a good driver on ice or you would die. Now you don’t have to pump your brakes anymore.

Though when you read the slash/world articles it seems like he’s against it.  Like most people he’d rather drive faster with less risk of dying.  Or code faster with less risk of crashing. He’s not some old coot saying kids today have it too easy.

There were lengthy conversations on transactions, memory management, pointers, parallel programming, state, reliability, expression trees, etc.

When the text topic was introduced Don Box declared “Text f***g rocks!” in exaggerated glee (51:38).

The quote that CW latched onto was from Jeffrey Snover (53:20):

Graphical programming environments are usable when they are useless, but unusable when they would be useful…  When there are five things on the screen, you can burp that out [in text]. But when there are 500 things, [graphical programming] is completely unusable. You zoom in and zoom out and you lose all context. I think it’s just smokin’ dope.

He’s not running down Microsoft tools here, he’s dishing on all Graphical Programming tools.  Funny enough, WPF in Visual Studio has the least usable graphical environment, but the best text environment for creating graphics since the UI is defined in XAML, a type of xml like html and the IDE gives a lot of help when editing the XAML and the graphical representation updates as you edit the text.  Working directly with the graphics is near impossible, but that’s ok since building graphics with text is quite workable.  I don’t know any tool that can really help you with 500 graphical elements.

While this was a joke from Snover as noted by CW:

programming is getting so abstract, developers will soon have to use Microsoft’s in-air motion sensor game controller for the Xbox, dubbed Project Natal, to “write programs through interpretative dance.”

It was not an offhand joke or part of the conversation.  It was in response to the question “What do you think we’ll be talking about in 5 – 10 years.” (57:20)  In context it’s still funny, but makes a lot more sense.

I think the entire session went over the head of the reporter for CW.

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December 1, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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