Sunday, June 18, 2006

Wars ...

... of the Programming Language kind:

The remarkably wide range of programming languages would seem to offer something for everyone. We could celebrate diversity. We could let a thousand flowers bloom. What actually happens, more often, is that we launch a crusade to convert the infidels—or else exterminate them.

In 1975 Edsger W. Dijkstra, a major figure in the structured-programming movement, wrote a memo titled "How Do We Tell Truths that Might Hurt?" The "truths" were mostly Dijkstra's opinions of programming languages; how he told them was very bluntly. Fortran is "an infantile disorder," PL/I "a fatal disease," APL "a mistake, carried through to perfection." Students exposed to COBOL "are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration," he said. "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense." When the memo was published a few years later, defenders of COBOL and BASIC replied in kind, although none of them were quite able to match Dijkstra's acid rhetoric.