February 01, 2003
Worse is not that much better

Reading the disussions about the design of perl 6 which seems to have come to a screeching halt bogged down by arcane disussions of excessivily promoted new features one is reminded of the old perl slogan "worse is better" - meaning 'usable' is better than 'perfect'.
I would however like to add a personal sentiment: It is not that much better. A language has to emerge as an end result. If that language is more difficult than perl to explain or - even worse - to understand, then it doesn't really matter what nifty capabilities it has. It will not be used. Simplicity wins.

Thinking about this, people's fondness for php and python, a previous post about - among other things - average developer skills, and having just read The Innovator's Dilemma, I think it is safe to say that perl is experiencing a disruption. And even worse, the perl community is reacting exactly like an incumbent champion of industry would, adding features - and cost - and spending endless amounts of time on sophistication and 'getting it right' to tweak the mileage the language offers.

Perl in itself was disruptive when it appeared. It is a remarkable unifying improvement on the unix toolchain, replacing shell scripts, awk, grep, etc. with a unified extensible tool. This made new things possible - like building a lot of the web - and was arguably the start of the rise of scripting languages as first class citizens of the software world.

The disruption perl is facing is the attack of the average programmer. People think perl is hard. They're probably right. So they turn to tools which may not enjoy the advantage of CPAN, with which you can do literally everything, and the best build system in the world (CPAN again and the completely standard modules) but they get the job done. And more people can learn how to use them, so there is no question perl is losing mind-share.

Reading Lisp discussion lists will give you a sense of what I'm talking about. And reading Peter Norvig's 1999 summary of the state of Lisp is a lot like reading the 'State of the Onion' that set perl 6 in motion. Incidentally, as far as I understand the examples in the 3rd edition of Norvig's AI book which used to be in Lisp, are now written in Python.

Posted by Claus at February 01, 2003 11:35 PM
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