Orig­i­nal­ly a rant­ing email to Dave Win­er pro­voked by some sil­ly state­ment out of Ap­ple I think.

It took me years to re­alise how deep and im­por­tant the di­vide is be­tween want­ing an SDK and want­ing to know the un­der­ly­ing pro­to­col. Too much of our biz can on­ly see one of these re­al­i­ties. I grew up with net­worked mini­com­put­ers and (most­ly) Unix, and maybe that's why, in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, I al­ways want to see the bits on the wire, be­cause in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, giv­en any pro­grammable de­vice, I can work with them.

XML is of course the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of that phi­los­o­phy; it can do a rea­son­ably good job of of­fer­ing a bits-on-the-wire view of just about any­thing.

Dur­ing the heydey of client-server I was re­peat­ed­ly baf­fled and frus­trat­ed by the mind-set, in par­tic­u­lar ev­i­dence chez Ap­ple and Mi­crosoft, that the on­ly ex­pres­sion of com­put­ing re­al­i­ty was a big hairy com­pli­cat­ed API with an as­so­ci­at­ed big hairy com­pli­cat­ed (and of­ten ex­pen­sive) SDK. This is not just a Unix-vs-PC thing - the X win­dow sys­tem is one of the most ex­treme ex­am­ples of the big, hairy, com­pli­cat­ed, API (the ru­mor that they ev­er ac­tu­al­ly ful­ly doc­u­ment­ed the wire pro­to­col is false).

And not that this ap­proach is wrong - I'm sit­ting in front of Win­dows box, and three of the win­dows are X ap­pli­ca­tions run­ning on my big serv­er which off at a dis­tant ISP.

Th­ese days I write big com­pli­cat­ed soft­ware in Java, which does a good job of giv­ing you a tractable ob­ject mod­el over­lay­ing in­sane­ly com­plex in­fras­truc­ture. But in a dis­tribut­ed int{ra,er}-net scale app with het­ero­ge­neous box­es, there's still no sub­sti­tute for the bits on the wire.

Our pro­fes­sion needs to grow up a bit and ac­tu­al­ly ar­rive at a con­sen­sus as to when each of these ap­proach­es is ap­pro­pri­ate, teach it in col­lege, and so on.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
August 18, 1999
· Technology (77 fragments)
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