"I have a mind like a steel... uh... thingy." Patrick Logan's weblog.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007


Tim Bray writes about IT...

But the real take-away is this, and it’s something that worries me more and more. I’m convinced that, increasingly, the proportion of enterprise software development based on dynamic languages and AMP technologies and Rails and rapid-iteration continuous-beta “Web 2.0” thinking will increase for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean that Java or .NET or even COBOL are going away, and the brutal truth is that we don’t really don’t have anything like industry consensus on the best practices for integrating Rails and PHP and Java EE and .NET/SQLServer and Cobol/IMS and Ada and all the other weird old shit that’s out there doing boring vital business functions.
It's worse than that.

I've worked on all kinds of systems for design, manufacturing, collaboration, and more. These systems were written in Lisp, Smalltalk, Modula-like languages, C++, C, Java, and more.

The systems that caused problems were those that had unnecessary dependencies among the components. Some of these couplings were all in the same language, designed roughly together. Others of these were in different languages, designed at different times by different people.

Most of the Lisp and Smalltalk systems had as many problems as the others. The nature of the languages made them somewhat easier to deal with. Somewhat.

IT systems are parallized for several reasons. First and foremost is that past systems have so many unnecessary dependencies that they are nearly impossible to disentangle. Significant, ongoing, incremental improvements are few and far between.

Yesterday's best practices did not circumvent this, except in rare circumstances. Tomorrow's likely will not either, except in rare circumstances.

I would almost always choose a dynamic language over a static one, even over those that have implicit and/or optional type checking. (Oh, no. Don't comment on that here.) I would also lean towards rest, atom, "web 2.0", etc. Those are the ways to go.

But incredible diligence will be required to turn those into long-term, evolvable, systems that continue to meet the needs of the business with reasonable investment. (I'm not sure how to measure "reasonable investment", but the cost of change should be somehow proportional to the difference between the business functions already built and the business functions to be built.)


Ian Bicking said...

Instead of evolving systems, I've been thinking about making replacement easy. That is, taking one piece out of a system, building things that can be usefully reimplemented with different constraints or goals, and generally expecting multiple implementations when anything important is at hand.

Patrick Logan said...

I think that is a good measure of how the overall system or environment can change over time: "how easy would it be to replace X?"

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Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.