Sun just announced their entry into the Rich Internet Application horse race. JavaFX is essentially a domain-specific language for GUI construction layered on top of Swing. I rather like it. It reminds me of Tcl/Tk – light-weight, pragmatic, declarative rather than procedural. Sun must have been so desperate to not be left behind that they didn’t have time to over-design it to be all things to all people. If Sun can refrain from ruining it, it might turn out really nicely. Unfortunately it is not yet usable enough for my work. Continue reading “JavaFX”

Goodbye Java

We’ve had 10 good years together, but it just isn’t working anymore. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it is you. I’ve found someone smarter, younger, and prettier. Yes, your little sister C#. There isn’t a nice way to put this: you need a major face job. Continue reading “Goodbye Java”

Silverlight on Rails

I am looking to move to a better UI platform for the next version of Subtext. The two contenders are Flash and WPF. As it happens, I have stumbled into the first skirmishes of a major technology war between Adobe and Microsoft. I have a hunch about what Microsoft’s next move will be. In the finest traditions of the blogosphere I am rushing to broadcast my unfounded speculation. Continue reading “Silverlight on Rails”

Brother, can you spare a pixel?

There is a lot of buzz these days about “Rich Internet Applications”. People are finally realizing that HTML is incapable of supporting a sophisticated user interface. AJAX is a reeking pile of hacks and cluges that offers only a glimpse of what could be possible with a halfway-intelligent browser platform. Many people are betting this platform will be Flash. Specifically Flash 9, Flex 2, and ActionScript 3. Maybe — but there is one dirty little secret no one is talking about: Flash is resolution-dependent. Continue reading “Brother, can you spare a pixel?”

No Ifs, Ands, or Buts

Long time no see. I have posted my latest OOPSLA submission.

At long last I feel like I am making progress again. I have been stuck on this problem for the last 9 months. The worst part is that people kept asking me “What are you working on?”, and I would say, “Well, I am trying to figure out how to do conditionals, and I am really stuck”. This produced funny looks. I mean, what kind of moron can’t figure out how to do conditionals? What could be hard about that? Well, I think I have finally figured out how to do conditionals.

The next paper will probably be about how to do loops. But first I need to do some honest coding…

Subtext on Rails

My recent proposal to work on modeling capabilities fell flat, but elicited some good discussion of future directions for Subtext. Peter Marks wrote:

… I would rather see a complete re-examination of what lies underneath the World Wide Web. And then take the Subtext approach of banishing syntax, treating program as data, history, etc. … This would mean initially abandoning the UI demo and focusing more on the development of a system/infrastructure that works with and within the Internet.

Macneil Shonle wrote:

I wonder what “Subtext on Rails” would look like?

Continue reading “Subtext on Rails”

Plan B

Subtext faces enormous obstacles to becoming an accepted programming language. It is still just a sketch, missing crucial pieces. But even as I slowly fill it out, I am encountering unyielding resistance. There is a great deal of skepticism about the whole idea of non-textual programming, due to the past failures of Visual Programming Languages. Overcoming that bad reputation will require proof that the UI and VM can scale to industrial-strength, and that there are unequivocal productivity benefits. I can’t do that alone, and it seems that I won’t get much help (particularly from the academic community) until I can first overcome the skepticism. Chicken and egg. Modern programming languages have dug a deep rut over the last 50 years, and dislodging them will not be easy. It will require finesse. Continue reading “Plan B”

First Class Copy & Paste

I have posted a draft of my latest OOPSLA submission: First Class Copy & Paste. As always, comments are welcome.

I apologize that this paper is so hard to read. It is very technical and formal, and all about internals, not the user interface. I felt that I needed to precisely define how Subtext works, both for myself, and for others who want to try to do something similar. A secondary goal was to document the idea of hypothetical computation that is in the demo. I also added a cool new idea: transactional concurrency. But few people will wade through the technicalities to get to that part. I probably should write a more accessible paper about hypotheticals and transactional concurrency.

The World Wide Dynabook

David Reed gave a keynote at OOPSLA about Croquet and TeaTime. Croquet is a re-imagining of Alan Kay’s seminal Dynabook vision, a vision which has influenced many aspects of modern computers and software. The Dynabook was a personal computing tool, while Croquet is envisioned to be a collaborative environment on the scale of the Web. I would call it “The World Wide Dynabook”. I applaud the grandness of the vision: reinventing how we interact with the internet, all the way from the end-user interface down to the network protocols and the programming language. I found the hints about their underlying architecture to be tantalizing, but unfortunately I got little more than hints, even after reading their publications. I will review what I have learnt so far. Continue reading “The World Wide Dynabook”

OOPSLA report

OOPSLA was great. I got a lot of positive comments and encouragement. It was quite heady to have established researchers, whose work I respect, introduce themselves and tell me that they liked my work. Perhaps a bit too heady: it wasn’t until the last day of the conference that I realized I should be using the opportunity to seek criticism and advice from the masters. Continue reading “OOPSLA report”

Now Playing

I have produced a Flash video of my upcoming OOPSLA presentation. It is divided into two parts, both about 15 minutes long. The first part recapitulates the previous video of building a factorial function. There are some new features, but if you already watched the older video, you can skip it without missing much. The second part demonstrates my new approach to I/O and mutable state.

I am excited about this development, not only because it addresses a big problem lacking good solutions, but also because it is going beyond “mere” usability issues. It has been easy up till now to dismiss my work as just repackaging standard language semantics into a different user interface. Now I am starting to show that fundamentally changing the way we represent programs can fundamentally change the way we think about them.

As always, please let me know what you think.

[10/24/05: updated the slides at the very end to match what I actually presented at OOPSLA]

The Currency of Development

One of the anonymous reviewers of my OOPSLA paper made the point, paraphrasing, that the main problem in software development is not the difficulty of programming, but the difficulty of getting a development project to function effectively. This is usually seen as the subject of methodology, with “extreme” and “agile” methods being the latest trends. My initial reaction to this criticism was to point to the example of spreadsheets, which make a certain class of problems simple enough to be solved by an end-user or power-user themselves, without enduring the trials and tribulations of a professionally staffed development project. Even on such multi-person projects, reducing the programming effort ought to reduce the size of the team and the number of interactions subject to error. However the fundamental point of the criticism remains true: the biggest problem in software development is teamwork. It has occurred to me that the design philosophy of Subtext can contribute to solving this problem. Continue reading “The Currency of Development”