Ted Leung on the air
Ted Leung on the air: Open Source, Java, Python, and ...
Sun, 06 Jul 2003
Languages, tools, and open source
James Robertson is frustrated with my frustration:
There's actually fairly vigorous competition in the Smalltalk space, because we have multiple vendors - we get various takes on what works and what doesn't, instead of what Sun knows is best or what Microsoft knows is best.
Unless the multiple Smalltalk vendors are actually changing the language, then they are just competing on the tools. I'm not knowledgeable enough about the state of .NET tools, but in Java, there was lots of competition in tools, Visual Cafe, JBuilder, Supercede, NetBeans, Eclipse, and there'll be more. I don't think that it's fair to say that theres no competition in the curly brace tools space.
Why is Eclipse boring? Perhaps it's because - unlike Smalltalk and Lisp - it takes no advantage of being written in itself. You can't modify the environment, or even ask intelligent questions of it. Being able to do so is what leads to productive tools.
I agree that none of the Java IDE's is really taking advantage of being written in itself. The ability to inject new code into the the IDE while its running is a significant advantage. I believe that this is also language specific, and could be done using something like Jython.
Python doesn't quite get there, because - as a scripting language - people tend to use things like vi and emacs to develop. Productivity simply does not lie that way.
Python is the new poor man's lisp. It feels a lot like lisp, but it isn't. Its only recently (or so it seems to me) that its starting to build up some momentum. The availability of a REP loop alone is a big advantage over tools that don't have such a thing. But I certainly wouldn't argue that the tools are lacking. I don't know if Python is going to cross over. I'm still not completely conviced that I want it to.
So what is this collective blind spot in the developer universe? Is it the siren song of Open Source and free tools? Are developers thinking that if its not free, they won't use it? That's part of it, I'm sure.
It's not the developers, its the people who control the purse strings. At every company that I've ever worked at, one of the first things I did after I got hired was to ask my management for the best tools that money could buy, both software and hardware. In some cases I got them, and in other cases I didn't. Not all of my co-workers did that. Not all of my co-workers were aware of the kinds of tools that were out there. I was lucky. I went to school when Lisp Machines were still around. I knew about the PARC Smalltalk hardware. But most people out there didn't, and still don't. And if they do, they can't get their management to approve, or their management doesn't have the budget.

Also, I make a distinction between open source tools and free tools. Free tools are just that. They don't cost any money. You may or may not get the source. I'm not particularly motivated by free, but its nice. On the other hand, having the source code is important, especially for tools. I have modified my tools. I will continue to modify them. And I'm willing to pay to support the people who are actually making those tools. I'd be happy that goes something like this: There are multiple "editions" of IDE X.

  • The "free version" is free and has reasonable but limited functionality and no source. After 1 year, you get the source to the free edition.
  • The "normal edition" costs $xxx dollars and has full functionality and no source, but after 1 year, you get the source to that version of that edition, under an open source license.
  • The "hacker edition costs $xxx+yyy dollars and has full functionality and immediate access to the source. So you pay extra for the privilege of getting the source a year before everybody else does.
I figure that a year (or pick some reasonable time period) is enough time for a tool developer to have a competitive advantage over people who just want to "steal" the code.

This is a lot like the source code licenses that vendors used to have in the past, except during those days, not that may people wanted access to the source, and the vendors that offered this type of license were mostly OS vendors. Maybe its time to re-examine that entire idea now that we've entered the open source era.

[01:17] | [computers/programming] | # | TB | F | G | 2 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
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