Sunday, September 03, 2006

Disconnect between thinking about a problem and programming

The Subtext programming system has been getting some buzz, and I think that this is worth while if it makes us think about the disconnect between thinking about problems and writing software to solve these problems.

While state of the art IDEs like IntelliJ for Java and VisualStudio for .Net languages provide a comfortable working environment, I must say that both Java and the .Net languages are poor choices for many programming tasks.

Scripting languages like Ruby and Python help this thinking vs. programming disconnect in one important way: for small programming tasks, very short programs are sufficient and we can keep track of both problem task thinking and programming.

What about large projects? There are two good alternatives in programming languages: Common Lisp and Smalltalk:

Common Lisp lends itself really well to growing your own application specific language (using macros if you like, and functions). Once you build up an application specific language, a lot of the complexity of even complex programs goes away. Even more importantly, domain specific languages should help close the gap between thinking about problem solutions and programming these solutions.

The downside of Common Lisp is that while Emacs based IDEs are effective environments, even with add on code browsers, I find exploring large Common Lisp software projects to be tedious.

Smalltalk implementations generally have great code browsers because the simplicity and regularity of the language make it easier to automatically process the structure and semantics of code. Smalltalk blocks and closures, like in Ruby, allow many concise coding tricks - shorter programs are easier to understand and modify.

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