Tools That Teach Mustnt Overreach
Opinion: Developers must divide their attention between languages and environments.This weeks sold-out Eclipse Summit Europe, in Esslingen, Germany, will include a presentation on the Topcased project, an effort driven by the French National Center for Aeronautical and Space Technology Research to construct "an open-source CASE environment [to] perpetuate the methods and tools for critical embedded system development." The goals of Topcased include "high-quality open-source model editors supporting an integrated development process from system specification to product architecture and implementation," which sounds like a pretty good ideabut some eyebrows may rise when a reader encounters the additional goal, "Rely on the long-term structure of the academic world to ensure project continuity." Im not saying that every contact between academia and industry is necessarily a collision, but these two communities are certainly known for having differing definitions of success.
When I see a software development tool being driven by higher-level goalsthat is, by someones idea of how software should be writtenIm at least as nervous as I am intrigued. In the very early days of the IBM PC, a Pascal development environment called Alice got a lot of advertising, with an iconic representation of a tall, intelligent-looking blonde who resembled an illustration from a Disneyfied Lewis Carroll story dressed up in a pinstripe suit. As I recall, though, the dominant theme of reviews of the product was that a developer who worked with Alice wasnt really learning Pascal (which was notionally the target language of the product)but was rather learning the least cumbersome way to make Alice generate the Pascal that seemed to do what the developer wanted. No one seemed to think that this was ideal.