Saturday, 15 August 2009

Taking a new direction

I've been having a bit of a crisis lately (a little different to the usual ones), I've been programming in C# on the .Net framework for about 4 years professionally now and a little longer personally as I was fortunate enough to convince my employer at the time when they wanted to shift to a different technology that C# and .Net was the way to go. I still think that was the right decision as it didn't have a very steep learning curve for everyone on the development team, who already had experience in similar languages, and most of the internal users who were the intended customers already had the framework installed. And I can't really knock my own decision to learn the language as it's been paying my bills for a number of years now which is always a good thing. So what could this crisis possibly be?

As I've mentioned in a number of previous posts I've been working on C++ apps lately at work and shockingly I've been quite enjoying it, I wasn't expecting that as my previous endeavours with the language have been painful to say the least, looking back though it would seem that most of this pain can be attributed to poor learning materials but with good references such as Learn C++ and the this has issue has been resolved. So why is this a crisis, well it's made me look at C# and .Net again and where the technology is heading and I can't say that I'm overly happy.

One of the biggest complaints I have and that I've heard from a number of fellow programmers is that the technology is moving to quickly, by the time a new feature has been introduced and you've had barely sufficient time to learn how to use it and apply it effectively a new release is out and there is something new to pick up. I've been on a few courses and to a couple of events recently and had the opportunity to speak to developers who are still working with version 1.1 of the framework because they either don't want to or simply can't keep on upgrading their apps to newer version each time they come out. I can see their point of view although I probably would try updating to a slightly newer version by now.

Another problem is with the way the language is developing, back when C# 3 came out the "var" keyword was introduced, this was a way of saying I don't know yet what this variable is going to be but figure it out for me at compile time. A number of people were wary of this wondering if this statically typed language was beginning to get lofty ambitions of trying to become a dynamically typed language, but they were calmed and told that this wasn't happening, and then with C# 4 we get the dynamic operator, hands up who didn't see that one coming!

This is really why C++ has thrown a bit of a curve ball my way, sure it does some things a funny way and it has the opposite problem of taking an age to progress technically unless you're willing to use the boost libraries, but it has a very clear identity. Python is much the same, it progresses at a good pace, letting people catch up, learn and implement new features and it has a very clear identity, it knows it's a dynamic language and doesn't pretend or attempt to be something else. All of this has prompted me to look at the languages I know, I'm going to keep C# under my belt because I've invested a lot of my time with it and Mono is starting to show some real promise (yes I am a Mono lover) plus I'm sure I'll need it to keep on paying the bills for a while yet. But I've started looking at Java as well, again it has it's quirks (type erasure and lack of unsigned types being the biggest ones) but it moves at a fairly decent pace and again knows what it is, plus it's a fairly easy migration from C# as it borrows heavily from Java. In fact I have a number of books covering things like design patterns and object oriented design which have all of their code examples in Java but I bought these as a C# developer and the converted code is almost identical.

So recently I've been running through the Sun Java tutorial book on-line and although it's hard going in some places, as the explanations of some principles aren't that well written, it's been reasonably productive. I'm not using a full blown IDE at the moment even though I have Eclipse installed because I've always thought that using a programmers text editor when learning a new language is more useful as you learn the language properly instead of relying on things like intellisense to do the work for you. And I've got Bazaar set up to version control my sample code, which has been working brilliantly I've got to say, if you're looking into version control at the moment I would strongly recommend you look at this one. For personal code its so easy to set up and use, I've got Olive installed for a GUI front-end but I tend to find myself using the command line more because it's just as easy.

I should probably also mention that another reason for choosing Java here is because I have a Google Android phone and Java is the language of choice if you want to develop apps for it, and with Ubuntu looking at bring Android apps to the desktop it means that Java apps can reach a larger audience. So I was looking at learning the language anyway but the issues I discussed earlier still just gave me that little bit more of a push.

So I'm going to keep on pushing with Java, lets see how it goes.

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