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May 25 2012

Developer Week in Review: Oracle's big bet fails to pay off

I've been taking the opportunity this week to do some spring office cleaning. Unfortunately, I clean my home office infrequently enough that at a certain point, cleaning it becomes more an exercise in archeology than organization. There's nothing like finding a six-month-old check you never deposited to encourage more frequent cleaning.

The same can be said for code, of course. It's far too easy to let crufty code build up in an application, and then be faced with the mother of all refactoring efforts six months down the road, when your code finally reaches a critical mass of flaky behavior. It's worth the effort to continually refactor and improve your code, assuming you can convince your product management that quality is as important as new features.

Android is almost out of the woods

It wouldn't be a Week in Review without the latest in Godzilla vs. Gamera Oracle vs. Google. Things aren't looking all too sunny for Oracle at the moment, as the jury in the case just threw out all the patent-related claims in the lawsuit. This doesn't leave Oracle with much left on the plate, as the case now boils down to the question of whether the Java APIs are copyrightable. That's a matter the jury is deadlocked on.

Like all things legal, this is going to drag on for years as there are appeals and retrials and the like. But for the moment, it appears that Android is out of the woods, at least as far as the use of Java is concerned. Of course, there's still all those pesky International Trade Commission issues keeping many Android handsets waiting at the border, but that's a battle for another day ...

Scripters of the world, rejoice!

For Perl developers, a point release of the language is a major event, as it only occurs roughly once a year. This year's edition has just been released, and Perl 5.16 packs a ton of improvements (nearly 600,000 lines' worth!).

Since Perl is such a mature language, most of the changes are incremental. Probably the most significant is further enhancements in Unicode support. Nonetheless, there should be something useful for the serious Perl developer.

FreeBSD bids GCC farewell

As the licensing on the GCC compiler has become increasingly restrictive, some of us have been wondering when the fallout would start. Wait no longer: The FreeBSD team has ditched GCC for the more BSD-friendly licensing of Clang.

GCC has spent decades as the compiler of choice for just about everything, but recent changes in the GPL have made it less attractive to use, especially in commercial development. With the Apple-sponsored Clang compiler now seen as a viable (and perhaps even superior) alternative, with a much less restrictive license, the Free Software Foundation may need to decide if it would rather stand on principle, or avoid becoming marginalized.

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March 29 2012

Developer Week in Review: Google I/O's ticket window open and shuts in record time

This week, I'd like to take a moment to thank the good folks over at Parkland Medical Center, who took pity on the retching, sweat-covered soul who appeared on the doorstep of their emergency room last Friday morning. They swiftly (well, after 15 eternal minutes in the waiting room, which is pretty swift for a walk-in to an ER) got him hooked up to an IV and introduced the two God-given holy fluids of morphine and Dilaudid. On a totally unrelated note, I'd like to proudly announce the birth of a healthy 3mm kidney stone at 5PM last Friday. Donations to its college fund can be made ...

Extending the trend line doesn't look good

Google IOLast year, Google I/O sold out in under an hour. This year, it only took 20 minutes. If we extend the trend-line out a few years, the only people who will be able to get in will be those who have access to micro-second responsive stock market trading programs and hyper-tuned eBay auction sniping software.

At least, however, Google fans have some clue when the registration opens for their conference. Those of us still waiting for Apple's WWDC conference know it will have to open for registration soon, but the exact date and time is a mystery. Thankfully, the multi-thousand dollar registration fee tends to make WWDC a bit slower to fill up, but it will still be a race for those who require authorization from their management to go (some of us get authorization months in advance, specifically for this reason).

If there's a solution to this classic supply versus demand problem, I can't see it. Regional conferences reduce the benefit of getting all the developers together in one place and would have the companies sending their development staff to the four corners of the world. Maybe Apple and Google need to start renting out football stadiums instead of conference facilities.


More pigs spotted airborne

For those who have been taking a skeptical view of Microsoft's avowed embrace of the open source movement, there's more reason to believe it's genuine. This week, Microsoft released a whole crop of its .NET technology to its CodePlex open source repository, and the company did it under the hyper-liberal Apache 2.0 license rather than something proprietary and restrictive. In addition, Microsoft has started using the developer-friendly git source control system — another attempt to make itself more compatible with the open source community as a whole.

Of course, releasing portions of its proprietary environment as open source is still an attempt to get people to use Microsoft's technology as a whole, including Visual Studio, but the more it puts out there under licenses that include patent grants, the more possible it is to incorporate compatibility with Microsoft products in non-Microsoft platforms and products.

Was the cake made out of 0xDEADBEEF?

It's practically unimaginable today, but when the gcc compiler was first released 25 years ago this week, the only way to compile your code was to pay your hardware vendor for a proprietary compiler package, sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

In the intervening years, the shining star of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has become the go-to (excuse the expression) compiler for most modern compiled languages, available on and for just about every hardware platform you can think of. It doesn't have the death-grip hold on the industry it once did, with Apple among others moving to LLVM, but it was the first and for a long time the best compiler money couldn't buy. You may argue with the current philosophy of the FSF, but give it due props for opening up the world of programming to the world by making free tools available to anyone who wanted them.

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