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Toilet paper as syntactic sugar and the cost of forks

The last day of the Roundup was a lively one; perhaps the most lively in terms of sessions. Two of the talks I attended were centered around the possible forking of Java and Java Applet deployment in view of whether or not it’s too late for rich Internet applications implemented in Java. It was a fun morning; I highly recommend the audio for these two sessions.

It was intriguing to listen to the postulations and concerns of participants over the possibility of Java forking. The majority of them are not participants in Free/Open Source Software; they would fall mostly into the majority category of consuming F/OSS, which explains many of their concerns. I pointed out that forks of significant projects are very costly, and must have their own community with a very good reason for undertaking such an arduous effort. In my view, the governance of Java as F/OSS will be what determines whether or not if forks. I believe some long-standing F/OSS projects’ histories bear that out, based on what I have heard and read of Emacs, mutt, and similar projects. I think the parallel existence of the Java Community Process and open-sourced Java is going to be an interesting sociological experiment over the next years; personally I don’t think they will coexist that well for that long.

In the discussion on Applets, we got into the issue of Swing’s lack of a viable component model. One participant postulated that Swing was just fine when you “have experts who know what they’re doing”, and that (plus the 2 awesome 16oz. caffe americanos I had from Camp4 Coffee) prompted me to express the following view which I now share publicly before the rest of the world:

With all due respect to my fellow conference attendee, my view is that this “when you have experts” sentiment is a key reason why Java has only gone as far as it has. The bearded road apples (props to Scott Adams for that term) who insist on building their own everything have labored under a severe misapprehension. This particular air of condescension is what irks me the most within the Java community. It is that same spirit that disparages meaningful, productive suggestions as “syntactic sugar”; I hate that. Let’s apply that reasoning to another area of everyone’s everyday life.

Toilet paper is syntactic sugar. There’s already an adequately functioning alternative for that given task, namely one’s hand. So why not use that? It works, doesn’t it? Yes, but I find the “syntactic sugar” of toilet paper to have a compelling “value proposition” (props to Joe Nuxoll for reinfecting my mind with that term ;-) ).

I don’t want to wipe with my hand, and I don’t want to use Java as my language for rich Internet apps, web applications, or anything else that is not heavy lifting to which the Java language is well-suited, which seems to be an ever-dwindling category of problem domains. The fruition of the dynamic has arrived; embrace it, you’ll be glad you did.

It’s been a great week; another wonderful Open Space event. Thanks, Bruce. Thanks, Java Posse. See you next year I hope.


2 thoughts on “Toilet paper as syntactic sugar and the cost of forks”

  1. Wow, what a visual … and an excellent analogy. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a turkey and cheese hoagie as I read your well-worded post. Just the other day I heard the same lame “syntactic sugar” argument with respect to the argument that anonymous inner classes are closures.

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