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(This article was written as a kind of business plan for anew language. So it is missing (because it takes for granted) the most important feature of a good programming language: very powerful abstractions.)
A friend of mine once told an eminent operating systems expert that he wanted to design a really good programming language. The expert told him that it would be a waste of time, that programming languages don't become popular or unpopular based on their merits, and so no matter how good his language was, no one would use it. At least, that was what had happened to the language he had designed.
Have you ever seen an old photo of yourself and been embarrassed at the way you looked? Did we actually dress like that? We did. And we had no idea how silly we looked. It's the nature of fashion to be invisible, in the same way the movement of the earth is invisible to all of us riding on it.
(This article explains why much of the next generation of software may be server-based, what that will mean for programmers, and why this new kind of software is a great opportunity for startups. It's derived from a talk at BBN Labs.)
When people care enough about something to do it well, those who do it best tend to be far better than everyone else. There's a huge gap between Leonardo and second-rate contemporaries like Borgognone. You see the same gap between Raymond Chandler and the average writer of detective novels. A top-ranked professional chess player could play ten thousand games against an ordinary club player without losing once.
In the software business there is an ongoing struggle between the pointy-headed academics, and another equally formidable force, the pointy-haired bosses. Everyone knows who the pointy-haired boss is, right? I think most people in the technology world not only recognize this cartoon character, but know the actual person in their company that he is modelled upon.
(This essay is derived from a guest lecture at Harvard, which incorporated an earlier talk at Northeastern.)
When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in painting. They seemed to think that hacking and painting were very different kinds of work-- that hacking was cold, precise, and methodical, and that painting was the frenzied expression of some primal urge.