Oct 04

Great empires often fall from within. 

The death knell for Visual Basic is premature, but it’s true that VB has deviated from its original vision as an “Application Construction Kit” for the masses and has lost significant market share as a result.  

Tim Anderson summed it up best:

It sounds like perfection.  Microsoft had perhaps the largest number of developers in the world hooked on a language which in turn was hooked to Windows.  Yet Microsoft took this asset of incalculable value and apparently tossed it aside.  Back in 2002, Microsoft announced that the language was to be replaced by something new, different and incompatible.  That caused rumblings that continue today.  Developers expressed emotions ranging from frustration to anger.  They felt betrayed.

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Aug 02

Update: We have launched a new website and forums dedicated to people with cubital tunnel syndrome: www.cubital-tunnel.com

No programmers were harmed during development of this article.

(Not true… my cubital hurts like mad today!)

A programming career is supposed to offer advantages such as longevity and limited physical risk. Unlike an athlete or blue-collar worker whose livelihood depends on physical ability and can be cut short by injury or aging, most programmers should expect to work right up until retirement, as long as they can raise donut to mouth. But a nasty secret in the software industry is how repetitive stress injuries including carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndrome can make programming a literal pain and threaten your career.

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Jun 02

If you are a .NET developer, how would you feel if your original C# or VB source code was published on the Web for the world to see?  That’s exactly what happens if you release your .NET software without obfuscation.

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May 30

Debate over the most popular programming language can become an emotional, almost religious battle.  And sometimes there’s no debate at all, such as when a developer is assigned to repair legacy software.  “It was written in COBOL?” is a popular refrain.

A programming language is just one tool in a developer’s expansive collection of specialty software and hardware.  So does it really matter which programming language a developer uses, as long as he or she is meeting customer requirements on time and within budget?

Yes, yes it does.  Ford or Chevy.  Stihl or Husky.  Coke or Pepsi.  Let’s face it, we all get passionate about our tools.

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May 29

The promise of end-user programming has been a fleeting one. 

First there was Hypercard for the Macintosh.  Hypercard was powerful enough to produce commercial applications but simple enough for a child to use.  Unfortunately, Hypercard proved too difficult for Apple to market properly, and besides, most developers don’t care about the Mac anyway.

Microsoft followed in 1991 with Visual Basic, which retained the simplicity of the BASIC programming language while upgrading it for use on the new graphical Windows platform.  VB was such a smash success with both novice and professional programmers that at one time, over 60% of software developers reported using Visual Basic for some of their projects.  But along the way, Visual Basic matured into a real (read: complex) object-oriented programming language, leaving behind its simple roots and unfortunately many of its fans.  As a result, VB use has plummeted 35% in just the past year.

There are also new efforts by IBM and smaller companies such as DabbleDB and Zoho to turn novices into programmers.  But none have the excitement or momentum of Microsoft’s new programming tool for the masses: Popfly.

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May 24

Microsoft offers a generous program to help new independent software vendors (ISVs) develop and launch their products faster and cheaper. 

The Microsoft “Empower for ISVs” program offers software, support, and additional resources designed to help ISVs reduce development costs, test their software on multiple Windows platforms, and improve time-to-market.  Empower is a one-year membership for $375, with an opportunity to renew for a second year, and it’s available only once per company.

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May 16

Developers for the Microsoft .NET platform are blessed to have three high-quality .NET magazines available to them:  CoDe Component Developer Magazine, MSDN Magazine, and Visual Studio Magazine.

Why would a tech savvy software developer want to read a paper magazine when so much information is available online?  Well, some of us “old timers” still appreciate the fresh smell and slick feel of a high-gloss monthly.  Also, magazine articles are often produced by professional writers who explain subjects in greater clarity and detail than one may find on the Web. And there are times when a developer may not be connected, such as when riding the train, sitting in a meeting, or eating lunch. 

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May 08

I started my professional programming career over 20 years ago on the Commodore Amiga.  The Amiga was a state-of-the-art personal computer, with a proprietary operating system, windowed GUI, and dedicated sound and graphics chips when the IBM PC was still saying, “C:DOS RUN.”

The Amiga computer was fast for its time, but maddeningly slow in hindsight: 5-10 minutes to compile a typical development project.  Hard drives were still external, bulky and expensive at $500 for 30MB.  The Amiga system APIs were plentiful, massive and complex, like the Win32 APIs that followed.  I wrote software in C, using a programmable text editor and the “Make” tool to build projects.

A lot has changed in two decades.  As with most things in this business, software development tools and systems are now better, faster, and sometimes cheaper.  But what are the most important changes?

In the spirit of David Letterman, following are my “Top 10 Advances in Software Development.”  These are the things–from my perspective, in increasing order of importance–that have most improved software development and entrepreneurship over the past 20 years.  I encourage you to reply with your own Top 10 list.

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May 08

Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe Flash. 

Officially, “Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.  Silverlight offers a flexible programming model that supports AJAX, VB, C#, Python, and Ruby, and integrates with existing Web applications. Silverlight supports fast, cost-effective delivery of high-quality video to all major browsers running on the Mac OS or Windows.”

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