Language bigots and aficionados

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Thursday, October 11. 2007 in Programming

I've been following for quite some time now the various blogs and articles regarding Erlang. In general, the ones by David Welton I've found the most enjoyable. But one thing I've noticed whenever new languages are discussed are that one tends to bring out of the woodwork language bigots instead of language aficionados. The bigots are those who refuse to see anything good in any language other than "theirs"; that their language is suitable for any and all projects; that it is both general and yet specialized. I much prefer listening to the aficiandos, since they can inform me about the reality of their language. When programming, I tend to worry about the reality of programming languages. As anyone who knows me, or regularly reads this blog knows, I have an affinity for scripting languages. Some mistakenly interpret that as being "anti-Java" when nothing could be further than the truth. The reality is, of course, that Java does not need my help in the least in making a name for itself. The huge marketing forces behind Java have done their job incredibly well, almost too well, since now there is this misconception that Java is the only language that matters, especially in enterprise application development. And that is something that I do hope to clear up. In fact, I'm actually co-presenting with Rod Cope a webinar on this very topic. I think that languages always have a basic design premise behind them; there is one area which they want to shine. The trick is, of course, whether that is a focus of the language or the focus. Consider FORTRAN; its focus was on engineering and mathmatical calculations. That focus was so intense, however, that it made it extremely unsuited for almost any other application. Now compare that with C that was designed from the onset to be a "general purpose" language, but ideally suited to systems programming. In this case, the specialization did not destroy the generality. Which brings us back to Erlang... for me, the measure of success for a language is how well it does what it was designed to do; And Erlang appears to do that very well. The fact that it doesn't do such a good job on things it wasn't really designed for does not strike me as a fault or failure at all. After all, would I complain that I can't use my hammer to saw wood well? Or that my saw sucks at driving nails? Of course, if I had some fancy hammer-saw in my toolbox, and it does an awful job at both sawing and hammering, then the generalization is useless no matter what. Languages, all languages, have warts; As a programmer, I want to know, heck, I need to know, what they are. But only if they are real, honest and true warts. PS: Regarding the webinar mentioned above. A few days ago someone emailed us back saying:
Haha what a joke this is. No one wants to use a scripting language over java for web applications. This is a sad old Unix guy's last attempt to save perl or something. Give me a break.
I kind of liked the "sad old Unix guy" phrase... And I kind of feel sad for those "young Java guys" who feel so threatened... and are so out of touch.

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