Reinvented Wheels Keep on Turning

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-01-13 Print this article Print

My e-mail newsletter ended last year with a look at the progress of Microsoft's C# .Net language.

My e-mail newsletter ended last year with a look at the progress of Microsofts C# .Net language. One reader then asked why Microsofts forthcoming enhancements to that language werent part of the first release. He wondered, "Why do we have to keep reinventing these wheels?"

Certainly, the family tree of the proposed C# improvements seems to suggest learning opportunities being overlooked during initial language design: generics from C++, iterators from CLU and Icon, and anonymous methods from LISP and Python.

It would be unfair, though, to treat language features as mere checklist items. The proposed generics for C#, for example, will take advantage of the high-level program intelligence thats available in .Nets Intermediate Language and during its run-time compilation.

Programmers using generics in C# will be able to develop logic once and apply it to similar problems involving different data types while enjoying the protection of the type-safety facilities offered by the .Net infrastructure. This is a big step beyond whats essentially the macro-expansion of source code text in generics for C++; Microsoft says that it will also prove more efficient than Javas generics because of limitations in Java virtual machine (more at

Its tempting to argue that, as more code is generated by visual construction tools or purchased off the shelf, only a shrinking slice of the developer population needs to care. But as application architectures spread their intelligence across more nodes of the network and through more levels of the IT stack, the need for expressive languages—and for developers who can follow the conversations—isnt going away soon.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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