Older blog entries for guerby (starting at number 5)

The GNAT Ada 95 front end has been commited to the GCC CVS repository a few days ago, happy hacking!

xtifr wrote:

One could also ask, why don't free software and Ada mix? We have a first class Ada compiler, it's a clean, readable language, far more elegant than C++ IMO. But, like C++, it has a (largely undeserved) reputation for bloat.

The GNU Ada compiler is not yet first class, it is not in CVS GCC and most distro don't have it. This should change real soon now. And I guess there are a whole bunch of existing and new Ada free software that will gain visibility as a result, not the least being the GNU Visual Debugger. Also Ada Core Technology is one of the few 100% free software company making money.

Guillaume wrote:

Once a programmer has been crowned "hacker" by his peers (which is quite often what he was aspiring at in the first place) that makes it even harder for him to ever reconsider his technical choices (especially if that involves significant effort like learning C++ is). So if he's ever had bad experiences with C++, he'll stay firmly on his positions that the language just isn't good.

There's also the fact that many of the "masters" (Miguel, Linus, RMS) have publicly stated that they don't like the language. What's more, no hacker as high-profile as Linus' or RMS' is using C++. And as egnor says, almost all successful Free Software projects use C, and thus somehow prove that C is "good enough".

May be those "masters" have good reason not to like the C++ language, I mean other than just being lazy and unwilling to learn, don't you think?

I've attended two RMS talks, at the first one at a direct question about what he thought about C++ he called the language an "abomination", at the second one he made a joke about C++ being ugly that drew applause from the crowd.

About RMS ability to understand quickly a "complex" language, I would remind that he just looked at the Ada Reference Manual and invented a new compilation model for it that is now used by GNAT and commercial compilers (he just didn't like the traditional model ;-).

I think that saying that "high-profile hackers" don't like C++ because they did not learn or understand it or are unwilling to evolve their technical opinions is questionable.

As for C++ at the workplace, I work for a bank, and as some of my coworkers were quick to adopt C++ a few years ago, it looks like they're dropping it even faster in favor of Java (they say C++ is legacy...).

I certainly think people working on free software (most of them on their free time) are choosing their programming language following their own taste or curiosity, and so the mass dynamics found in the workplace doesn't apply and freedom of choice works 100%.

This together with the slow progress of g++ looks like a good explanation of the dynamics observed by egnor.

If you're in NYC, certainly a meeting to attend to, too bad I'm in Paris ;-).

From: secretary@lxny.org
Subject: LXNY Meeting Tuesday 5 December 2000: Robert B. K.
Dewar on how to make millions selling free software
Newsgroups: comp.lang.ada,comp.lang.icon
Followup-To: gnu.misc.discuss
Date: 5 Dec 2000 14:27:13 -0500
This meeting is free and open to the public.

The meeting runs from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. After the meeting full and precise instructions on how to get to our traditional place of refreshment will be given in clear.

Thanks to support of the IBM Corporation, the meeting is at their building at 590 Madison Avenue at East 57th Street on the Island of Manhattan. Enter the building at the corner of Madison and 57th and ask at the desk for the floor and room number.

Robert B. K. Dewar, Head of Ada Core Technologies, a multi-million-dollar multi-national free software company, will talk about how to make money with free software.

Today one of the many rhetorical attacks against free software goes "But is free software ready for the Enterprise?". Ada Core Technologies sells services and software built around GNAT, the Official GNU Compiler for Ada, the Official Computer Language of the United States Military Industrial Complex. Another rhetorical attack goes "But how can you make money selling free software?". Ada Core Technologies makes money.

Robert B. K. Dewar is

Professor of Computer Science at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU,

an expert on programming languages,

a serious programmer who has written compilers, language libraries and real-time OSes, on a wide range of platforms from embedded systems to microcomputers to mainframes,

a mainstay of the robust froup comp.lang.ada,

SPITBOLer extraordinaire,

an effective advocate and amicus at large for free software and the freedom to program,

and official maintainer of the GNU Ada Compiler GNAT.

http://www.cs.nyu.edu/cs/faculty/dewar
http://www.webcom.com/software/issues/docs-htm/brf-cs.html
http://foldoc.doc.ic.ac.uk/foldoc/foldoc.cgi?SPITBOL
http://www.gnat.com
http://www.adapower.com
http://www.adapower.com/lang/gnat-spitbol.html
http://www.research.ibm.com/people/n/ncohen/ada.html
http://www.acm.org/sigada
http://www.adahome.com
http://www.adahome.com/Tutorials/Lovelace/lovelace.html
http://www.dmoz.org/Computers/Programming/Languages/Ada
http://www.seas.gwu.edu/~mfeldman/ada-project-summary.html
http://www.archrecord.com/PROJECTS/DEC99/PEOPLE/TIMESQ.ASP
http://www.vaxxine.com/pegasoft/homes/book.html
http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Lovelace.html
http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/tap/ada-lovelace.html
http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage
http://www.eisenhower.utexas.edu/farewell.htm
http://www.fsf.org

Michael E. Smith <MESmith@panix.com> General Manager LXNY

Jay Sulzberger <secretary@lxny.org> Corresponding Secretary LXNY

LXNY is New York's Free Computing Organization.

http://www.lxny.org
27 Oct 2000 (updated 27 Oct 2000 at 19:06 UTC) »

To add to the story by apm and to other readers interested in how to improve coding skills, I strongly recommand "Code Complete" by Steve McConnell, Microsoft Press 1993, ISBN 1-55615-484-4.

It is near 900 pages on the topic of how to define and write a routine. It is very-well written, with funny "coding horrors" section, covers multiple languages (hopefully not in the "how to do xxx with language yyy", repeat for all yyy publishing crazyness).

My experience is that it can boost the coding style and efficiency of beginners dramatically (the size is a little intimidating, but once they start it they finish it). Experienced coders won't learn much, but it's nearly all the topic covered in one book which is nice.

Warning: not to be confounded with "Writing Solid Code : Microsoft's Techniques for Developing Bug-Free C Programs" by Steve Maguire which is nowhere near the same quality and interest.

It might be of interest to some advogato readers (let's fill these diary entries a little bit ;-). As I said in a previous message in the thread, I would love to see what is the current employment ratio of shrink wrap vs custom software + support, and money making ratio, and David answered he would love to see it too. Any information?

From: Laurent Guerby <guerby@acm.org>
Subject: Re: Why open source is winning
Newsgroups: gnu.misc.discuss
Date: 21 Oct 2000 13:07:51 +0200

Laurent Guerby <guerby@acm.org> writes:
It looks like to me that you're reducing the "software development industry" to the "shrink wrap proprietary software industry".

David Masterson <dmasters@rational.com> writes:
Is there any other? :-)

Well, none of the people I graduated with (software engineering) work in the shrink wrap industry, they all work writing/maintaining custom software for big projects, or as contractors inside various companies also developping/maintaining custom software for one client. All these companies and people are making big money, and there's no shortage of work to do!

It might be an Europe vs US way of doing software.

I would say you're missing all the one customized software for one customer/problem industry [...]
I mentioned this later in my message as "contract" programming (ie. first user pays development costs). Its not an unreasonable model, but it does have flaws...

But you seem to imply again that all software is "sellable" to the masses (shrink wrap), and that's just not true. I see a large market for "first user pays development costs" and no other user ever exist.

But, of course, you're thinking like a bank employee with no competition for your job.

Just to clarify what I do, I work on financial equity and other derivative software, if you think there's no competition for jobs or otherwise in this market, I guess you don't know it at all!

Now think about it from the point of view of the bank. What would the bank think of making *ALL* of the software that you develop "open source"? Can other banks now become more competitive with your bank because they pick up and use your software? Remember these other banks are not obligated to contribute to the development of the software, so they would be making use of your software for "free" (monetarily speaking).

I think you're completely misunderstanding the "open source" licensing scheme. You're NEVER obliged to release to the community your customization as long as you don't distribute binaries to people outside your organization (*). There are custom ports of GCC made and used by only one company, and they don't have to release it at all, and this is perfectly fine with the FSF. The software I work for is not intended at all for use outside our company, and we even have some software protection and authorization scheme to make sure it stays this way.

(*) There is some debate on how to have multi company collaborative work on "unreleased" GPL software, but that's a bit special.

On the other hand, if your software is *not* released as "open source", does that mean that all those other banks have to go about duplicating your efforts? Isn't that wasteful?

Yes of course all other banks in this market are duplicating our efforts, this is where the competition is! The software embodies nearly all of the bank derivative product know-how, that's all kept secret as much as possible. The model is that if you want to know what other banks are doing, you have to pay to get their employees work for you and bring you their knowledge. There are companies selling this kind of software (proprietary way, and may be open source way), but with much less advanced functionalities (often with a plugin interface so that banks can put their know-how in).

Perhaps it would be a win-win if your bank sold the software to the other banks (oh, but then you're into a "proprietary" model... ;-)

See RISK magazine if you're interested in learning what's going on in our industry.

My employer decided to use an open source tool and pay for technical support (not cheap!) a few years ago for this critical piece of software and this was an informed move. They hired me in part because I know very well the technology since I worked on it, and the sources are available. In case of emergency I'm even able to fix things myself (we have very hard requirements on getting things to work quickly). They can't get that level of insurance if they choose to use proprietary software since the selling company is the only one with source access (monopoly), if you piss them off and have a problem, you're dead, no alternative, no incentive to fix things we need (except may be the low one to one 1/N with a big N since you're selling to the masses). To put it otherwise, vendor lock-in and racket.

For other custom software developed in my bank where multiple proprietary tools are used, my coworkers have to make sure things work together, and sometimes their vendors have conflicting interest, I can tell you that ends up being very costly and unsatisfying.

I guess this experience applies to other industries, a lot of businesses today are heavily depending on combining and customizing software for their own unique purpose. If your business scales up, you'll end up being very interested to buy skills to do even more customization, and in this way, open source is very attractive because it is ... the only option. Sometimes you might even end up competing in a slight way with what your original vendor software does, and you just can't live with a proprietary vendor.

I firmly believe that the software market needs this kind of competition, and I do not see it at all as putting every software engineer out of business, well on the contrary! But I can easily imagine that people with different experience think otherwise.

PS: I didn't notice your email at first, but your company is offering a competing product to the free software we use (GNAT, an Ada compiler). I haven't tried yet to compile our software using the Rational Ada compiler, but I'll do it one of these days, as QA for code portability at least ;-).

Laurent Guerby <guerby@acm.org>

Just a note for those who find "The Future of Programming" advogato post interesting: you might have a look at the book "High Integrity Ada" by John Barnes (Addison-Wesley), it describes a safe "provable" subset of Ada 95 known as "SPARK 95". Also look at the message of Peter Amey in the thread "High integrity software" of the comp.lang.ada newsgroup for some interesting claims.

Formal proofs are in use today with existing languages for non-trivial software, it's just not C/C++ (as the cvsup author John D. Polstra wrote it's "notC" ;-) and what can be called a typical hacker environment and mindset. Needless to say I regret this a lot, in particular the Ada entry of the Hacker's dictionary is highly misinformed ;-).

As for proving with C, it's uselessly hard because the pointer model is pervasive. And for the C++ template model, AFAIK, it does not even enforce interface and implementation separation which is quite essential for scaling up (you need to know all the implementation code to see if your template use will work).

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