Monday, March 10, 2008

Leaning towards the left...



This diagram is an adaptation of something I wrote on a co-worker's cube wall. I based this on my own experiences, so it probably reflects my prejudices, especially with regard to the placement of the "Human Limit" marker. It'd be interesting to come up with some kind of objective measure for the complexity of a programming language. Maybe multiply the number of reserved words by the number of operators, or something.

I think that excessive simplicity is one issue that limits adoption of the languages to the left of the diagram. Though I've never heard someone come out and say it, I think a lot of programmers are actually put off by syntax that's too simple. People complain about "all those parantheses" in Lisp, but what really bugs them is that the parentheses are really all there is to Lisp, the language.

I tend to prefer languages with simple syntax. I find that a simple set of rules to remember helps me to focus on what I'm trying to accomplish, rather than how to harness the myriad of tools available to me to actually do the work. I also find that simple languages are paradoxically more flexible. In a language like Lisp or Tcl, it's easy (and more or less encouraged) to extend the language with your own constructs, which are "first class citizens" as far as the language is concerned.

Having said all that, even I have my limits. While Smalltalk is a wonderful system for puttering around with, I don't love it. I think the lack of a more-sophisticated syntax for algebraic expression really hampers the usability of the language.

I'll add some additional commentary tomorrow, especially with regards to where Lua (the most recent language I've learnt) fits on the diagram, and what that implies about Lua...

1 comment:

Jason Foreman said...

I've got slightly different prejudices, so I'd throw Perl above the human limit mark as well. It will be quite interesting to see where you place Lua, which just so happens to my language du jour as well. Its simple syntax has made me question some of my previous infatuation with Ruby. Though MetaLua can throw a wrench in the whole works.