Thursday, October 27, 2005


Charles Petzold

Saw a reference to a talk by Charles Petzold on slashdot titled Does Visual Studio Rot the Mind?. This latest rumination laments the artifical barrier that tools like Visual Studio place between the programmer and their code. This barrier is more than the automatically generated code that 'wizards' construct, and that we all struggle with reading once a project has moved into maintenance. The barrier is also the way in which the tool changes the way we write code, so that 'features' like IntelliSense completion work. The tool becomes the master, and begins to dictate how we should work with no consideration given to elegance or simplicity of the code. Petzold discusses these issues eloquently, and concludes the article with his experiences in starting to write ANSI C code in notepad: It’s just me and the code, and for awhile, I feel like a real programmer again.

I have similar feelings whenever I get the opportunity to tinker with Minix. The system is small enough that I can keep large chunks of it in my head, and provides just the basic tools required for writing and compiling code. There is a slow release cycle, so I never worry about keeping up with the next upgrade or the latest changes, and am confident that anything I do in the next month or 2 or 6 will still be relevant. This is a very different environment from Windows, Linux or the *BSD communities where there is continual change, and a large amount of effort needs to be spent just keeping up with the change. I use all three of these systems regularly (and have for many years), but I enjoy booting up my old Minix system, and just writing code with black-and-white glowing characters.

Petzold belongs to a select group of authors that is able to make reading about programming interesting and fun, and is up there with W. Richard Stevens (author of Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment and other classics) and Andy Tanenbaum. I still have a copy of Petzold's OS/2 Presentation Manager Programming sitting on my bookshelf, which was an invaluable reference years ago when I was making the transition from being a 'Unix guy' to an 'OS/2 guy', and layed solid foundations for me to start programming in the Windows world.

Thanks Charles for all your work.

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