Every development platform has its "gotchas."
I thought Tim Bray's use of the term "sharecropper" to describe
developers building applications on the Google App Engine
Bray, who is director of Web technologies at Sun Microsystems, said he was
given a hard time by folks who said he used "racially charged"
metaphors when he called developers building on the Google App Engine
platform sharecroppers "on the Google plantation" in an
April 9 blog post. Click Here to Watch the
Latest eWEEK Newsbreak Video.
Indeed, Bray said: "What a devil's bargain; Google will make your
identity pain go away and qualify a high proportion of the world's Internet
users to use your app. But you're gonna be on the plantation forever; deal with
In any event, I found Bray's choice of words interesting, not so much
because I view them as racially charged. From my experience with Bray, I
certainly don't believe he intended them that way. I just thought it was interesting
because the tech business has always been associated with thought leadership,
innovation and the ability to bootstrap-not exactly the characteristics
associated with sharecropping.
Walker, a commenter to Bray's post,
said: "Sharecroppers performed
backbreaking physical labor for almost no money, and existed in an environment
where a bad harvest or a duplicitous landowner could spell the difference
between a survivable (but meager) winter and near-starvation. Software
engineers work in air-conditioned offices, usually for at least decent pay, and
have freedom of movement, self-determination and the opportunity for
Walker was actually quoting from
a post he had written five years ago.
But, of course I know what Bray's talking about-good old lock-in. The
question is how much you're willing to take and from which provider. Or in Bray's
parlance, Whose plantation are you on? Every platform has its tradeoffs.
For example, compare Bray's view of Google App Engine and Google's motives
with Sun's research project named Project Caroline, which sounds a lot like
Google App Engine.
According to the Sun Web page describing it: "An advanced R&D
project at Sun Microsystems, Project Caroline is a hosting platform for
development and delivery of dynamically scalable Internet-based services. It is
designed to serve an emerging market of small and medium-sized
software-as-a-service (SAAS) providers. Anticipating needs driven by new SAAS
business models and processes, Project Caroline helps SAAS providers develop
services rapidly using high-level programming languages like the Java(tm) programming
language, Ruby, Python and Perl, to update in-production services frequently,
and to automatically flex their use of platform resources to match changing