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GCC moves to attract more developers

June 1st, 2010

The GCC steering committee have just approved the use of C++ in GCC (I assume they are using GCC here to refer to gcc, not the Gnu Compiler Collection). On purely technical grounds it does not make much sense to allow developers to start adding C++ constructs to a large, established C code base, in fact I can think of some good reasons why this is a poor decision technically, but I don’t think this decision was based on technical issues.

Software is written by developers and developers have opinions (sometimes very strong ones) about which languages they are willing to use. Any project that relies on unpaid contributions (GCC does have a core of paid developers working on it) has to take developer language opinions into account. In fact even projects staffed purely by paid employees have to take language opinions into account; I was once heavily involved in the Pascal community and employers would tell me they had difficulty attracting staff because being seen as a Pascal developer would limit their future career prospects.

Over the years GCC has had a huge amount of input from various people’s PhD work. I suspect that today’s PhD graduate is much more likely to write in C++ than C and have little interest in a rewrite in C just to have it accepted into the gcc source tree.

What of up and coming developers interested in getting involved in a compiler project, are they willing to work in C? If they want to use C++ rather than C, then until Sunday the compiler project of choice for them would be LLVM.

The GCC steering committee have finally acknowledged that they need to allow the use of C++ in gcc if they are to attract a sufficient number of developers to work on it.

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