January 94 - SoFAWA Notes
In unintentional homage to MADA's home office, WAMADA did not have an October meeting. Our November meeting, "organized" by yours truly, was a rather sedate affair, but we did manage to accomplish one important piece of business. Following, once again, the lead of the home office, we changed our name from WAMADA to SoFAWA, resulting in our new motto: 'So near, and yet SoFAWA'.
And along the same lines, our discussion at the meeting was about the possibilities and practicalities of the coming revolution in programming. Well, promised revolution. It is unlikely that next year will be another year of technical "consolidation". While companies may indeed be consolidating (note the recent agreement between Next and Sun), the number of platforms and system software choices should expand. RISC chips, in particular, provide the horsepower to emulate non-native software at acceptable speeds. Multiple operating systems will be available on multiple platforms, reducing the barriers that have given us our current OS fiefdoms. Running a Windows app. on top of Solaris on a PowerPC machine will be like buying a Nissan built in Ohio, or a Chevy built in Canada. As consumers, we've got it made. But as programmers, what will we be making?
Desktops machines with GUIs, networks, and access to large pools of corporate data are creating a market for high level tools that make it easy for people to selectively pull that data out and make some sense of it. Visual Basic was mentioned as one such tool, and a good one, at that. Why wait for the MIS department to do it for you when you can do it yourself? Well, as programmers have known for some time, once you begin coding a process you also begin, usually unintentionally, codifying rules and relations about that process. If you sort a report by assuming the date always starts in the eighth column, how do you keep the department that makes that report from breaking your code when they "improve" their report? Anyone reading a journal named FrameWorks already knows the answer to that question.
So, it seems that the economics of hardware development will lead, at least temporarily, to a variety of operating systems, which, in turn, will demand the development of frameworks to help keep everything working together. The increasing size and bandwidth of networks will help fuel the demand for tools that can make use of the information sloshing around out there. Frameworks, then look to be the foundation of a lot of programming jobs in the future. Apple, for example, is promoting OpenDoc as a model for future applications: one where documents are composed of embedded data blocks, each created by an independent (but conformant) application. Technically, it satisfies the requirements for future high level tools, but what is the business model? I think that a good part of the framework market will be "getting it right". That is, your true value added is the model that you are implementing, not the implementation itself. Large companies will continue to hold market share by providing large sets of inter-related frameworks, while small companies will continue to profit by more accurately modeling the needs of vertical markets. Hmmm, doesn't sound much different than what we have now.
Of course, we've been hearing this sort of plan for the future for quite awhile. But, to be a bit self-congratulatory, the members of SFA are a bit ahead of the curve anyway. A year from now the flood of new possibilities should become evident to enough people that the "herd instinct" will lead to a sudden switch-over to OLE, OpenDoc, Taligent, and similar framework-based systems. That said, I'll admit that I'm not yet ready to catch this next wave. How about you?
If you're in the D.C. area, and interested in object oriented programming and rhetorical questions, give SoFAWA a visit. We meet the third Wednesday of every month, beginning around 7:15 p.m. For information on the next meeting, and directions, send a message to JEFFRIES.L on AppleLink, or call Leslie at (301) 340-5126 during business hours (EDT). If you leave her an e-mail address, she can place you on her mail list for SoFAWA meeting announcements.