Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Tim Bray on Dynamic Languages

Tim Bray has just joined Sun (congratulations, Sun). One of the interesting snippets in the middle of the article was:

In fact I personally believe that Java’s share of enterprise software will decline, but not in favor of anything from Redmond. I think that dynamic languages (Python and friends), particularly in conjunction with Test-Driven Development, are looking more like winners all the time. They generally are cheaper to program in, run just as fast, and have fewer bugs; what’s not to like?

I wonder if Tim’s in a position to help Sun see that the drive to make J2EE heavier and heavier will ultimately hurt them? There’s a definite groundswell out there of folks pushing back against the monster that is modern enterprise development (just look at the spread of the Groovy meme, and things like Spring). Will companies like Sun and BEA listen, or will they simply become less relevant? I’m hoping that Sun at least listens, but I’m not holding my breath: they’ve got an awful lot invested in the J2EE, and seem to think that the only way to move into the future is to add even more features.

The best thing that they could do for themselves and for the development community would be to scrap at least half of J2EE, and move back to a more lightweight, declarative style of applications development. Perhaps the 1.5 metadata stuff is a Trojan horse to let them do that, but I suspect not.

We Got a Jolt Award!

Sue Spielman just called. Apparently the Pragmatic Starter Kit just won a Jolt Productivity Award. I’m blown away: we had some stiff competition, and the books haven’t been out that long. I’m thinking that the judges were probably thinking what we’re thinking: these kinds of basic skills are becoming crucially important if we’re to keep software development competitive in this country.

Anyway, a big “thank you!” to everyone involved, and congratulations to the winners.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Nice Interface in a Storm

My Powerbook’s hard drive came to a sticky end yesterday. Almost literally. Starting in the morning, it seemed to “stick” every now and then, and applications would hang until it came back. The sticking got worse and worse until eventually everything just died.

Down to the Apple store, and Tony in the Genius Bar said “before we wipe it, why not take an full disk copy to be on the safe side. It’ll probably cool down enough overnight that you’ll be able to get to the disk.” And he recommended Carbon Copy Clone as a way of getting a hard drive copied onto and external firewire drive.

And it all worked. I downloaded the software, booted up in the morning, and copied 40Gb onto an external LaCie drive. My hard drive resisted a few times, but judicious tapping of the case seemed to bring it back to life. When it finished, I rebooted off the firewire drive, and was able to create a book PDF to send to the printers before the weekend.

Along the way, I came to admire the Carbon Copy Clone interface. It’s trivial: it basically asks you where to copy from and to, and gives you a “start” button. But what makes it great is the log window. You see, underneath the covers, CCC simply uses BSD commands to do its work (things like ditto and bless). And in the log window, it shows you these commands as it executes them. First, that means that as the backup is happening, you can track the progress. I had a couple of terminal windows open to I could see directories being created in response to the commands that CCC was issuing. That made it easy to tell when the hard drive had stalled.

But it’s also a great interface because it taught me two or three new commands: things I hadn’t tried before. After I’d got a new loaner Powerbook powered up, I found myself using ditto a lot to install particular applications and directory trees.

So, for me at least, CCC is a really good example of a mixed-mode interface. It’s a GUI when I needed it (I have to admit to being panicky when the drive failed, and the idea of pressing a single “start” button to make an archive was appealling). At the same time, it also encouraged me to understand what wasreally happening under the covers, knowledge I put to good use later in the day.

And now I’m thinking about the applications I write. Do I perhaps hide too much of what’s going on from my users? If I made it more explicit, would it help them become more proficient?

Anyway, kudos to Mike Bombich for Carbon Copy Clone. (And thanks to Tony at the Willow Bend Apple Store for the loaner machine).

Saturday, March 6, 2004

Our Third Title!

If I’ve been distracted recently, it’s because Andy and I’ve been heads-down getting our third book finalized. When we first started Pragmatic Unit Testing in C# with NUnit, we though it would be a fairly light rework of the JUnit book. We were wrong. Instead, we’ve found that we’ve rewritten entire chapters, and heavily modified much of the rest.

The good news is that with this book we’re absolutely at the leading edge. We were tracking the NUnit team as they added whole new sets of features (check out categories as a great way of grouping tests), and Andy’s been working closely with Charlie Poole (thanks, Charlie!) to make sure we’ve been capturing the spirit of what they’re releasing.

We’ve also decided to try an experiment: this time we’re releasing the PDF version while the paper book is going into production. Folks who buy the PDF now will be able to get the standard combo discount ($12.50) on the paper book when it arrives from the printers.