ArsDigita: An Alternate Perspective

ArsDigita: An Alternate Perspective. Roberto Mello, a prominent contributor to the OpenACS project, sums it up: “In 2000 everything began shifting. ACS 4 seemed an excellent thing, and everybody was excited, but it was never finished and then everything just turned to Java.”

Why Java? Because that's what many of our prospective clients were asking for. ACS 4 and its predecessors were built on top of the high-quality but obscure AOLserver web server, and most of the ACS code was written in the workable but uncool Tcl language. In the good old days, Philip could usually convince a new client that web servers and programming languages didn't matter, but by 2000, we needed more clients than Philip could evangelize personally, and many of our prospects had never read The Book. As a general rule, technology buyers like the mainstream, which basically meant either Java or Microsoft. While Eve may sneer at this weakness for “fashionable technology,” if you're a CIO without the budget to throw six-figure salaries at the latest crop of MIT grads, this actually makes sense, since you want to maximize your chances of hiring competent staff to maintain any software you buy.

The ArsDigita story from the VCs vs founders angle is sad but nothing new. The founders are great technologists but poor businessmen, and the VCs are great manipulators but poor businessmen. To me, what is worse is that a whole generation of software developers are under the illusion that if it is enterprise software, it has to be Java or C#.

The story also demonstrates why specialist languages such as Python will never have a chance except in niche markets – its simply too difficult to find competent Python programmers. In my company, we had some software modules developed in Python on my initiative, but we had to abandon this project because the effort to maintain a pool of Python programmers within the company was too great. I might even dare to suggest that if your company develops using Python, you have great developers, but lousy managers.

PHP already has a larger user base, partly because it really is easier to use than Python, partly because Python's use of white-space is really too clever (that makes it difficult to integrate with markup languages),and partly because Python (unlike PHP) has no affinity to other popular languages such as Java and C#. In contrast, all the PHP programmers in our company are C or Java converts.

PS: Come back tomorrow. There will be some surprising comparisons of PHP and .NET.  [PHP Everywhere]

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