Subtext: Visual Programming, New Angle

2. March, 2009

If you have no idea what subtext is, lean back and watch this presentation.

It’s nice to finally find another person concerned about the state of programming languages. I started with C, toyed a bit with some other languages, moved to Java and today, I’m working mostly with Java, Groovy and Python. I’m doing all my spare-time code in Python. Why Python? Because I get more bang for the key press. And my spare time is most valuable.

So while I thoroughly agree that the idea of subtext is convincing, it’s too limiting at the same time: There are simple problems which you can’t express well in subtext, for example: A switch with 10 cases and some complex code in each case. It would just become too wide. The same applies when formulas have more than ten parameters. Your flow tree looks nice but it takes more screen real estate than the “traditional” version.

So my argument is that we need a way to choose. Software projects need to give up the holy grail of “one language to rule them all.” The IDE should allow to mix and match various languages and more complex “objects” like tables, rich text, animations. Why do I have to waste my time formatting tabular content in a Java file (think array of values) when I can have Excel? Why can’t Java read the data directly from Excel? Why can’t I embed Excel tables in Java source code and access them like a 2D O array? Why can’t I use a rich word processor to write my comments? Why is TAB 1-8 spaces instead of “one level of indent”? Why do I have to use braces when I already indent my code?

Because our computers are not powerful enough today. With every key we press, we have to worry about RAM and performance. Because companies still believe in lock in. Sun would probably add a cross-platform COM API into Java but will Microsoft port Excel to any platform where a Java compiler is available? Oh, we could use OpenOffice. Let’s see. People working for a software development company that has more then two employees: Comment here if your company policy allows to use OO instead of Office. Now let’s see how long it takes to get 10 comments.

In the end, what we have today is the most simple thing that actually works and doesn’t take too much RAM. I hope the time is ripe for the next step. I’m sick of fixed-width fonts, curly braces and source code which is 1% functionality and 99% “make the damn compiler happy”.

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