Shahzad Bhatti

May 23, 2008

Chasing the bright lights

Filed under: Computing — admin @ 10:59 am

I have been IT enthusiast and professional for over twenty years and I consider my self to be “Innovators” type when it comes to technology and programming. I have seen a number of changes over the years. One of my manager used to say that we like to chase bright lights. Unfortunately, many of the trends die off naturally or fail to cross the chasm. Here are some of those things that I chased that died off or faded away:

Mainframe

I worked on a mainframes for a couple of years early in my career and did programming in COBOL and CICS. Though, mainframes are not quite dead, but I am actually glad that they have faded away.

VAX/OpenVMS

I also worked on VAX/VMS and OpenVMS systems, they were rock solid and I am a bit disappointed that they could not evolve.

PASCAL/ICON/PROLOG/FORTRAN/BASIC

BASIC was my first programming language, but hasn’t used it since early DOS days. I learned PASCAL in college and found it better than C, but in real life didn’t see a lot of usage. I also learned ICON and PROLOG, but didn’t find any real use and have not used FORTRAN since old VAX days.

NUMA based servers

In early 90s, Silicon Graphics built very powerful machines based on NUMA architecture, that gave shared memory model of programming on a number of processors. Unfortunately, they had some limits to how big they could become and not to mention all the locking slowed down shared memory access. Around the same time, IBM SP2 built systems based on message passing (MPL), which were a lot more scalable. These two programming models are now coming to the front row as multicore programming is becoming essential. I get to play both of these systems at Fermilab, Metromail, TransUnion and Argonne Lab. I am sure, lessons from these early models will not be lost and message passing based programming will win.

PowerPC NT/Solaris/AIX

Back in 94-95, Motorola created these PowerPC machines that could run NT or Solaris and I thought they were pretty cool. So, I spent all my savings and bought one. Unfortunately, Sun abandoned Solaris soon after and Microsoft did same. I finally got AIX to run on it, but it just didn’t go anywhere.

BeOS

Back when Apple was looking for next generation operating systems for Macs, they seriously considered BeOs, which was pretty cool. I played with it and bought a few books to program in it. Unfortunately, Steve Jobs went with his NextStep system and BeOS just faded away.

Java Ring

In early days of Java, Sun announced huge support for Smart cards, which came with strong cryptography and small memory. I spent several hundred dollars and bought SDK kits, Java rings and smart cards from ibutton.com. This too just didn’t cross the chasm and died off.

CORBA

I did a lot of CORBA in 90s, which I thought was a lot better than socket based networking I did before that. They had a lot of limitations and despite having standards, there was very hard to integrate. Now, they have moved out of the limelight.

Voyager

Voyager was an ORB from ObjectSpace that had very nice features for agent based computing. It also had nice concepts like Facets or dynamic composition. It inspired me to built my own ORB “JavaNOW” that supported seamless networking and agent based computing. It too failed to cross the chasm and died off.

EJB

One of the difficult thing with CORBA was maintenance of servers, because each server ran in its own process. I had to write pretty elaborated monitoring and liefcycle system to start these servers in right order and restart if they fail. I thought, application servers like Weblogic and Websphere solved that problem. A lot of people who were not familiar with the distributed systems tried to use EJBs as local methods and failed miserably. I built proper value objects before there was pattern after them and used EJBGEN to create all stubs. I actuallyI don’t miss the elaborate programming, but still see need for application servers to host services.

MDA/MDD/Software Factories

In early 2000, I was very interested in model driven architecture and development and thought that they may improve software development process. Though, I had seen failure of CASE tools in early 90s, but I thought these techniques were better. I still hope better generative and metaprogramming help cut some of the development cost.

Aspect Oriented Programming

I leared about AOP in 90s when I was looking for some PhD projects, it became popular in early 2000. Now, it too has been faded away.

Methodologies/UML

Agile methodologies have killed a number of methodologies like Rational Unified Process (RUP), Catalyst, ICONIX, UML modeling, etc. I never liked heavy weight processes, but do see value of some high level architecture and modeling.

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