What are the influences of Simula 67 on today’s programming languages? Is Simula 67 the most important language in the history of programming languages? What are the next big topics in programming languages? These were some of the questions discussed in the panel debate “Celebrating 40 years of language evolution: Simula 67 to the present and beyond” today at OOPSLA.
It seems to me that tomorrow’s most important topic in programming will be related to parallelism. Both James Gosling and Anders Hejlsberg stated that the next important thing in programming will be address multithreading better. There are several drivers for this: first of all, we see that we are getting computers with more and more CPUs, and our current programming languages and inherently programs do a poor job taking advantage of this. Furthermore, applications are becoming more and more distributed, which also drives parallelism, timing and synchronization issues. I guess the fact that the programming language Erlang, created by Ericsson Computer Science Laboratory in the eighties, is getting attention these days, can be seen to emphasise this trend. Erlang has built-in support for concurrency.
Is functional programming the real deal?
Another topic touched upon by the panel, was the role of functional programs. OOPSLA being a conference built around object orientation, the crowd is of course a bit biased towards object oriented programs, pretty much like the rest of the world is. However, the current trend is that features from functional programs are finding their ways into object oriented languages like Java and C# (closures, higher order functions, etc.).
A question, then, is if functional programming will be the way of the future. Bertrand Mayer pointed out that functional programming will never be mainstream.
James Gosling went on to state that the problem with functional programming is that only a small part of the programming community understands it. Furthermore, Guy Steele pointed out that functional programming avoids the notion of state, which is a notion that will get ever more important as applications become distributed.
Programming: what can we do better?
One important topic in our field today is what we can do better to cope with the ever incresing complexity in software. One thing that Anders Hejlsberg pointed out, as that today’s programming focuses too much on the ‘how’, and too little on the ‘what’. Too much focus on ‘what’ gives too much complexity. Furthermore, Ole Lehrmann Madsen pointed out that there are too many papers at this conference about ‘adding x to Java’. Instead, we should think more out of the box to find new paradigms that can bring us a leap forward in the field of computer programming. Easier said than done, I guess… Going back to the topic of concurrency, Guy Steele pointed out that the dependency on the stack is the biggest problem for concurrency in today’s programming languages. This reminds me of Gregor Hohpe‘s statement in the workshop I attended on Monday, that “SOA is like programming without a call stack”.