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The New Old

4 replies on 1 page. Most recent reply: Dec 29, 2008 4:14 PM by James Watson

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Josh Long

Posts: 9
Nickname: joshlong
Registered: Dec, 2008

The New Old (View in Weblogs)
Posted: Dec 19, 2008 1:17 AM
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Summary
Old 2.0 (I've got more; stop me if you've heard them before.)
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This is my first blog entry for Artima. I'm elated! I figure there's little more appropriate for an initial blog entry than to reflect about the bright and cheery outlook for the past! The potential for advances in maintenance is staggering.

There's nothing quite like greenfield development. It's beautiful. It's bliss. The requirements are yours; you're not burdened by the transgressions (atrocities!) of the past. Have you ever seen an empty bug queue? You can compile and test the entire thing in less than a second. The best part has to be the potential. "Tabula rasa", "carte blanche", etc. Unlimited potential. Such development is called "green field" development. It's fresh. It all invokes images of produce, to me. When you capitalize on potential, when you achieve, it's rewarding. Soothing. It evokes reactions from the core of your brain. Stimulus. You get a sense of accomplishment, of moving forward. It's also fast: creating is – to the uninvolved – much easier to do than updating. You've heard the many brilliant bullet points to this effect. People write faster than they read and learn. Learning code is said to be 1/3 as fast as writing it, which is why it becomes demoralizing to work on maintenance changes for too long. This is also why people tend to just scrap projects, "let's rewrite it!"

Then there's the type of development most of us work on at some point or another - changes, or maintenance. Maintenance is the least fun. It doesn't carry with it the sense of creation that new development does. There are 3 major types of change in software development: additions, deletions, and updates. Realistically, you rarely see deletions in software. People don't usually remove features. It's not a very good survival strategy. Additions (new features on an old system) and updates (refactoring of existing code) are the norm. In what ratio you get to work on either depends on where you work, your lifestyle, etc.

Our brains are averse to it. Part of this is the barrier to entry (perceived or otherwise) for successful change. The other part of this is that – generally – computer science has evolved to better development efforts. We've not had a history long enough to cherish or preserve in any significant way. New development's far outstripped the maintenance applications at the beginning of every era in computing. When mainframes hit, people built new mainframe applications. When desktops hit people built new desktop applications. When the web hit, people built new HTML pages and storefronts. When Ajax hit, people built Ajax applications.

The trend is turning in on itself, where we're developing new things so quickly that the maintenance phase is being encroached upon ever quicker. Applications are ever earlier entering the maintenance phase, and there's no new revolutionary era in sight. Further, because of the connected nature of the web, integration is becoming more and more important, and change is being visited upon “pristine” applications as a matter of course.

Change and maintenance are not easy, however. We haven't enabled it to be.

We've advanced the process of building new applications. Visual Basic and the drag-and-drool revolution heralded the most recent wave of utterly unmaintainable, quick, application development. Ruby On Rails will script you a fully working application in 10 minutes. It's perfect. Just deploy! Unless... you need to integrate. In which case, tack on 10 months to that project. Java got popular because it enabled middle-of-the-road development on new applications and facilitated a the new network programming paradigm. Not because it was more useful, or because it had the speed advantage, or because there were more libraries for it.

There are some branches that have started gearing towards change, for example the Agile movement. The methodologies by which software is built more and more embrace change. That's a step. There are tools that are designed to facilitate change, like SOAP. But this process isn't easy. It still feels like a kludge. No one uses SOAP because they want to use SOAP. People use SOAP because it unifies environments. If you could control the universe though, I imagine you'd much rather all applications that you build or integrate with speak the same tongue. That way, they would all benefit from some high performance, native remoting protocol specific to your platform. No regrets. It's not a “natural” choice. It's the best, given the circumstances.

It's time for a big change. Java, for better or for worse, is entering its maintenance lifetime. We've squeezed a lot of development inertia for greenfield projects. The next step is building out and standardizing the integrations, the changes. SpringSource- the company behind the Spring Framework - is doing a lot of this. Spring Batch is a framework, and the necessary infrastructure, specifically for batch processing – an age-old black-art that is in need of standardization. Spring Integration is an API geared toward tieing disparate data and services together. Because ESBs, and Spring Integration, model these solutions in a high level configuration format, they're made easier. Because they're easy, they're approachable. The patterns - and knowledge - behind ESBs are definitely there. Higher level tools like Business Process management (BPM) are providing business with the ability to reuse and composite process, human, automated, or otherwise. BPM makes such reuse elegant, which makes it simple, which makes it quick.

There's lots of room for improvement, though. I see plenty of support for running sexy new Ruby On Rails apps in the .NET and Java environments. Where's the support for running COBOL and C? JNA's definitely a good first step, but hardly the same thing. In the JEE world, JCA components are probably the hardest part to deal with because they are necessarily vacuous and open-ended. More infrastructure to augment that part of the process would do wonders for big corporations. Vendors like BEA make a killing with middleware like Tuxedo whose sole job is to provide reuse of legacy services. Surely the market's there?

What thing will make maintenance and reuse easier? What's the next big old thing?

Resources

  1. The mind of the programmer
  2. Joel Spolsky, "Ten Things You Should Never Do".


Achilleas Margaritis

Posts: 674
Nickname: achilleas
Registered: Feb, 2005

Re: The New Old Posted: Dec 23, 2008 6:46 AM
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Old code looks like gobbledygook.

There needs to be a tremendous leap forward in the readability of languages. Readability is not a function of syntax only, but it is also a function of the capabilities of the language that allow domain-specific-languages to be developed.

Case in point: Java GUI code. Setting up a dialog in Swing with, let's say, 50 controls is about 10 pages long. The same code could be written in perhaps 2 pages if Java provided the way to write a GUI dsl, analogous to xml or html.

Visiting that GUI code one year after its development, one can only understand it by building the same mental model that the developer had. Otherwise, the old code will be deemed as 'unmaintainable'.

Dick Ford

Posts: 149
Nickname: roybatty
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: The New Old Posted: Dec 23, 2008 11:20 AM
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> Old code looks like gobbledygook.
>
> There needs to be a tremendous leap forward in the
> readability of languages. Readability is not a function of
> syntax only, but it is also a function of the capabilities
> of the language that allow domain-specific-languages to be
> developed.
>
> Case in point: Java GUI code. Setting up a dialog in Swing
> with, let's say, 50 controls is about 10 pages long. The
> same code could be written in perhaps 2 pages if Java
> provided the way to write a GUI dsl, analogous to xml or
> html.
>
> Visiting that GUI code one year after its development, one
> can only understand it by building the same mental model
> that the developer had. Otherwise, the old code will be
> deemed as 'unmaintainable'.

In the Java case (and if you wanted to do it by hand), you could use Groovy's Swingbuilder DSL.

I agree that syntax and DSL are important. Don't look for Java language proper to ever give you what you're looking for though. If the Java language changes in 1.7 are any indication, Java is going into maintenance mode.

Elizabeth Wiethoff

Posts: 89
Nickname: ewiethoff
Registered: Mar, 2005

Re: The New Old Posted: Dec 23, 2008 2:25 PM
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> In the Java case (and if you wanted to do it by hand), you
> could use Groovy's Swingbuilder DSL.

Or perhaps Zed Shaws's Profigacy library for simplifying Swing creation in JRuby. But this might not (yet?) provide the code clarity Achilleas is looking for.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The New Old Posted: Dec 29, 2008 4:14 PM
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> Case in point: Java GUI code. Setting up a dialog in Swing
> with, let's say, 50 controls is about 10 pages long. The
> same code could be written in perhaps 2 pages if Java
> provided the way to write a GUI dsl, analogous to xml or
> html.

The really sad thing is that the strength of Swing is in building guis dynamically. The upshot is that it's a ready made library for a DSL or HTML type design.

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