That’s one thing about the Open Source movement that’s always troubled me. It’s not just a movement that deals with software and computers, but somehow its followers seem to have been drawn into it for other political, religious, and social reasons. I could never put my finger on what it was that was going on exactly, but I always got the impression that these people “weren’t like me.”
A recent spate of rants sheds some light on to the issues that play into this dynamic. Richard Stallman essentially slams a coworker because his family commitments were going to interfere with the development of Emacs. Now a geek being rude is not a new thing… but the reasoning of geeks coming to the defense of another rude geek can get pretty frightening. Easily the most insightful comment came from Paul Prescod: “If there exists any universal value system that would justify any of the screaming one way or the other in this thread, it surely includes the component that a father has a responsibility to his wife and daughter that takes precedence over his volunteer activities.”
So who is this guy that combines empathy with strong reasoning skills? And more importantly… what language does he program in?? A quick google and I see that Paul Prescod is author of a book on XML and codes in Python. I like his quip that he refuses to become proficient in “indecent” languages. And in spite of his professional accomplishments, he has never forgotten what it was like to be a kid with an 8-bit computer and nothing but a basic manual to go on. He states his dream for the future of programming and computing thusly:
“My dream is a world wherein all but the very lowest levels and tightest loops of programs are written in a language that is so simple that it can be taught in primary school as a first language; where every word-processor user who can write a macro can at least try to dive into their word processor’s source code to fix a bug, because the macro language is also the implementation language.”
But this of course sounds a lot like Small talk. As Mark Miller has noted, “what Smalltalk, and especially Squeak, has achieved that no other system has achieved to date, with the exception of the Lisp machines of old, is a symbolic virtual machine environment that is more relevant to its own use than any other run-time environment out there.”
And of course, this brings us back to Lisp. Pretty much all the arguments against Lisp I can set aside, but I still have one of the “if Lisp is so great” type of worries hanging on. If Lisp is so great… then why don’t we have an operating system written in the language?
My guess as to the answer to that is that its Richard Stallman’s fault. Yeah, C and Unix are the ultimate viruses that propagate against all of our better judgements, but Emacs is just good enough that its not worth the effort. As Dave Roberts says, “having everything integrated, editor, Lisp system, and application, is powerful. While it can’t quite match up to the power of a full Lisp machine, you can begin to realize some of the potential.” Too bad the platform is run by a guy that has little sympathy for average developers that go home at 5PM to assist in child-rearing activities….