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Joel Climbs Into the Trunk

Joel is smoking the good stuff! Or is he drinking the purple stuff?

Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software is actually claiming “.NET appears so far to be one of the most brilliant and productive development environments ever created.” He goes on to say “ASP.NET is as big a jump in productivity over ASP as Java is to C. Wow.”

Living inside Microsoft’s locked trunk for too long obviously ruins your sense of perspective. They’ve been steadily improving their tools over the years, but they started in such a truly awful state that what they have now seems like absolute luxury to Windows developers. If these people would bother to look outside their cramped quarters occasionally, they’d see that they really, honestly don’t have it very well off at all.

Here’s a choice quote:

I love the fact that you can use an ASP.NET calendar widget, which generates HTML that selects a date on a monthly calendar, and be confident that the “date” class you get back from that thing (System.DateTime, I believe) will be the exact same date class that the SQL Server classes expect. In the past you would not believe how much time we wasted doing things like reformatting dates for SQL statements, or converting COleDateTimes to someOtherKindOfDateTime.

I’d believe it because I’ve seen the kind of crap you have to go through to get anything done with Microsoft’s development tools and programming interfaces. In fact, I’ve written ported Macintosh software to Windows with them, and even tried to build Macintosh software with them (using their terrible Macintosh MFC SDK). It’s amazing Windows developers are ever able to get anything done.

Contrast that to OpenStep, WebObjects, and the Enterprise Objects Framework circa late 1995. There is one date class, NSGregorianDate. You didn’t have to write low-level code to access databases, so you didn’t have to worry about turning dates into strings you could embed in SQL statements. Instead, your Enterprise Objects – objects transparently backed by your database could just have attributes containing NSGregorianDate objects and The Right Thing would happen automatically.

As I read through this, I find more and more absolutely laughable comments. For instance:

First, they had the world’s best language designer, the man who was responsible for 90% of the productivity gains in software development in the last 20 years: Anders Hejlsberg, who gave us Turbo Pascal (thank you!), Delphi (thank you!), WFC (nice try!) and now .NET (smacked the ball outta the park).

Yes, the creator of Turbo Pascal is responsible for all of our productivity gains in software development. Especially since, even though Joel credits him as a “language designer” he didn’t really “design” Pascal or Object Pascal. Not, say, Alan Kay, leader of the team that invented true Object-Oriented Programming in the 1970s at Xerox and popularized it in 1980 with Smalltalk-80. Then again, that’s 22 years ago – maybe it doesn’t count (since Joel said “20 years”), even though industrywide movement to OOP didn’t really have critical mass until the 1990s…

Perhaps with .NET, Microsoft is only 5 years behind where NeXT was in 1995 with OpenStep, WebObjects, and the Enterprise Objects Framework. But they’re still 5 years behind where NeXT was, and now that NeXT has funding – in the form of millions of Apple Macintosh users running Mac OS X – they’re starting to move ahead quickly. If they can bring back the Objective-C version of EOF for Cocoa, they’ll be way ahead of the game.

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