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In the future, apparently we’ll only have one computer – a smartphone that plugs into a docking station. If a docking station is needed to work, and I need to work on the move then I still need more than a smartphone.

I prefer the future laid out by Ben Thompson:
multiple devices linked by the cloud.

…what is the smallest screen size Apple could make and still run iPad apps?

Twitter discussion on a smaller iPad

The conclusion was that a smaller iPad would need a different resolution. It would still be tough to do fine-grained work.

A reasonably sized smart phone is fine for surfing the net, watching movies and replying to email (although I’m still sad when the keyboard takes over half my screen). For working, although you can make do with one in extremis, either a larger device or a completely new interface is required.

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It is probably worth enumerating which technologies I am familiar with so I can determine if I need to concentrate on any obvious deficits or if I could substitute a mediocre tool with a superior one. I will only talk about languages here.

C++ is my main enterprise statically-typed language. I have used it for a number of years and I am very comfortable with it. The main alternatives (as I would need something that I could easily get paid for) are Java and C#. However, there is a huge barrier for me to consider either as it would take me so long to get to the same level. If it wasn’t for needing to get paid, perhaps Ada, Eiffel or D would be reasonable substitutes for C++, Java or C#.

Perl is my primary scripting language and I’ve been using it for both ad-hoc tasks and small to medium projects as required at work since the 90s. Again, I’m not really interested in a direct competitor to Perl at the moment because of familiarity and also because neither Ruby nor Python provide any compelling advantages.

Unix, shell and related utilities are another ‘language tool’ that I use frequently. I can’t think of a competitor at the moment, but that might be due to limited imagination on my part. I should briefly mention a couple of other languages I use at work: ELisp and SQL but again I can’t think of any alternatives.

Outside of work, I have a much greater flexibility in choosing a language to do a project and so far I have chosen Scheme. MzScheme provides a nice native GUI on Windows built on a solid, relatively performant, strong & dynamically typed, garbage collected language.

For the past few months, Chicken Scheme has been my tool of choice for delivering native executables on Windows. I chose it initially because of the excellent FFI and theoretical portability of the code. However, I could be looking for something else, as it doesn’t work on Windows Vista.

I have invested a fair amount of time in scheme, but of all the languages I use, it is the most likely to be replaced. Python with WxWindows could probably handle many of the small scripts I whip up in MzScheme. I’ve often wanted to give Ocaml a proper whirl too, but perhaps library availability on Windows will be limiting.

Conspicious by its absence, is a good tool for developing Web applications. Ideally, I would like something open, portable and easy to install and to me, Squeak and Haxe both stand out as options here.

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More Vista Hate

What was Microsoft thinking? It seems to me that they owe a lot of their success on maintaining backwards compatibility. In contrast to earlier versions of Windows, of the first seven pieces of software I tried on Vista, just two have worked without any issues (Firefox and Office 2007), the others in no particular order are:

  • MinGW C++ compiler (this is working now that I replaced one of the DLLs)
  • Chicken scheme compiler
  • Office 95 (I only have a non-commercial license for Office 2007 – what if I want to sell my writing ;))
  • MSN Messenger (I’ve spent two hours on various attempted solutions – still not working)
  • The ZoneAlarm personal firewall (admittedly, Vista has its own, built-in firewall)

All of these worked flawlessly out-of-the-box without any tinkering necessary on Windows XP. All I can say is “give me back XP please!” I don’t care about the O/S. It is entirely incidental, the important thing is the applications that run on top. With a strike-rate of 5 out of 7, I don’t have much hope. Vista has turned my general purpose PC into an internet browsing terminal.

Another gripe: if the security improvements is just User Account Control (UAC) I don’t think that is going to be any benefit at all. I share my PC with an unsophisticated computer user. We use the same limited user account and she has the admin password. For various reasons, it is not possible to change this situation. Just to give an example, I was trying to get MSN Messenger to work for her. After trying several different things – always running as admin, allowing it through the Vista firewall, running in XP compatibility mode, entering a string of commands at the command-line I gave up. She was still keen to get it working, so she googled for Messenger downloads, downloaded them one by one and attempted the install. For each install, UAC popped up the dialog to grant administrator privilleges. Without a pause, she entered the password and clicked through the dialog, allowing the software she had downloaded, which could have been laden with any number of trojans or spyware, full access to the system. Software companies have taught users really well to ignore dialogs with their EULAs and whatnot. Oh, Internet Explorer has stopped working too, perhaps because of one of the attempted solutions to Messenger, so it is fortunate I installed Firefox or the PC would be a paperweight rather than a kiosk.

So basically what I’m saying is, I hate Vista.

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  1. [DONE] Finish webstat collecting program
  2. Benchmark Bigloo, Chicken, C, C++ (and maybe Perl, Python and Ruby)
  3. Investigate Smalltalk Seaside
  4. Investigate Scala (added 25th August)

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Tech to Investigate

Chicken Scheme

Why is it interesting?

It is a scheme variant with plenty of libraries and a good FFI for linking C code that can produce binary executables on Windows. It looks like it could fill a niche in between C++ and Perl for any projects outside work I want to do.

Why not?

This will have to compete with O’CAML and Haskell for my time.

O’CAML

Why is it interesting?

Like Chicken, O’CAML has a good set of libraries for the problem set that I’m interested in. Also, it has a very funky-sounding debugger that can go backwards as well as forwards in time and profiling tools. With my code, I spend a fair amount of time in the debugger so that would be a great advantage!

Why not?

  • I think I’m leaning more towards the dynamic language side of the fence.
  • It is more of a Unix-centric language and my development box is Windows.
  • Some of the syntax looks a bit grim (but hey… who am I kidding when I’m interested in scheme ;)) e.g. adding floats together.

Haskell

Why is it interesting?

Again, the libraries cover pretty much everything. Lazy evaluation gives some possibilities for creating new syntax that seems a little more tricky in O’CAML. Also, the community seems a little more active in comparison with O’CAML.

Why not?

  • Again, it is more of a Unix-centric language.
  • It seems like you need a PhD to become conversant with it.

Seaside

http://seaside.st/

Why is it interesting?

It is, according to a number of articles, the oldest and most robust continuation based webserver with a built-in debugger and profiler. I’m a web programmer from way back when and we used basic CGIs so something that promises to abstract the session away from web development sounds fantastic.

Why not?

It is yet another language to learn (SmallTalk)

Questions to ask

  • How well does it scale?
  • It looks like you can edit the components from any web-browser (is that correct?) That being the case, is it possible to restrict edits to a certain set of developers?
  • I’m guessing the answer must be yes or it simply wouldn’t be viable for production use. Can you imagine a wiki where the pages are scripts and any random user can edit them?

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