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Joel on Software


by Joel Spolsky
Sunday, May 05, 2002

Why do developers choose one programming language over another for a given task?

Sometimes I choose raw C when I need blazing speed.

When I want something that will run on Windows with as small a distribution as possible, I often choose C++ with MFC statically linked.

When we need a GUI that will run on Mac, Windows, and Linux, a common choice is Java (although the GUI will not be perfect, it will work.)

For rapid GUI development and really smooth UIs, I like Visual Basic, but I know that I'm going to have to pay the price in the size of the distributable and the fact that I'll be locked into Windows.

For a command-line tool that must run on any UNIX machine and doesn't need to be fast, perl is a good choice.

If you have to run inside a web browser, JavaScript is the really the only choice. In a SQL stored procedure, you usually get to choose between one vendor's proprietary SQL derivative or go home.

What's the Point?

But I hardly ever choose a language based on syntax. Yeah, I prefer the {}; languages (C/C++/C#/Java). And I have lots of opinions as to what makes a "good" syntax. But I wouldn't accept a 20 MB runtime just to get semicolons.

Which makes me wonder a bit about .NET's cross-language strategy. The idea is, choose any language you want, there are zillions, and they all work the same way.

VB.NET and C#.NET are virtually identical except for tiny syntactic differences. And other languages that want to be part of the .NET world need to support at least a core set of features and types or they won't be able to Play Well With Others. But how do I develop a UNIX command line utility in .NET? How do I develop a tiny Windows EXE in less than 16K in .NET?

It seems like .NET gives us a "choice" of languages precisely where we couldn't care less about it -- in the syntax.

Have you been wondering about Distributed Version Control? It has been a huge productivity boon for us, so I wrote Hg Init, a Mercurial tutorial—check it out!

Want to know more?

You’re reading Joel on Software, stuffed with years and years of completely raving mad articles about software development, managing software teams, designing user interfaces, running successful software companies, and rubber duckies.

About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, easy web-based collaboration software, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracking and software development tool, and Kiln, a distributed source control system that will blow your socks off. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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