Posts Tagged ‘predictions’

Assessing my predictions for 2009

January 24th, 2010 No comments

I have been rather remiss in revisiting the predictions I made for 2009 to see how they fared. Only two out of the six predictions were sufficiently precise to enable an assessment one year later; the other four talking more about trends. What of these two predictions?

The LLVM project will die. Ok, the project is still going and at the end of December the compiler could build itself but the build is not yet in a state to self host (i.e., llvm compiler creates an executable of itself from its own source and this executable can build an executable from source that is identical to itself {modulo date/time stamps etc}). Self hosting is a major event and on some of the projects I have worked on it has been a contractual payment milestone.

Is llvm competition for gcc? While there might not be much commercial competition as such (would Apple be providing funding to gcc if it were not involved in llvm?), I’m sure that developers working on both projects want their respective compiler to be the better one. According to some llvm benchmarks they compile code twice as fast as gcc. If this performance difference holds up across lots of source how might the gcc folk respond? Is gcc compiler time performance an issue that developers care about or is quality of generated code more important? For me the latter is more important and I have not been able to find a reliable, recent, performance comparison. I understand that almost all gcc funding is targeted at code generation related development, so if compile time is an issue gcc may be in a hole.

I still don’t see the logic behind Apple funding this project and continue to think that this funding will be withdrawn sometime, perhaps I was just a year off. I do wish the llvm developers well and look forward to them celebrating a self hosted compiler.

Static analysis will go mainstream. Ok, I was overly optimistic here. There do not seem to have been any casualties in 2009 among the commercial vendors selling static analysis tools and the growth of PHP has resulted in a number of companies selling tools that scan for source security vulnerabilities (.e.g, SQL injection attacks).

I was hoping that the availability of Treehydra would spark the development of static analysis plugins for gcc. Perhaps the neatness of the idea blinded me to what I already knew; many developers dislike the warnings generated by the -Wall option and therefore might be expected to dislike any related kind of warning. One important usability issue is that Treehydra operates on the abstract syntax tree representation used internally by gcc, GIMPLE. Learning about this representation requires a big investment before a plugin developer becomes productive.

One tool that did experience a lot of growth in 2009 was Coccinelle, at least judged by the traffic on its mailing list. The Coccinelle developers continue to improve it and are responsive the questions. Don’t be put off by the low version number (currently 0.2), it is much better than most tools with larger version numbers.

Predictions for 2009

December 31st, 2008 No comments

If the shape of code does change over time, it changes very slowly. Styles become more or less popular, but again the time-scale is generally longer than a year. Anyway, here are my predictions for goings on the in the community that shapes code.

1) Functional programming will continue to entrance the young whose idealism will continue to be dashed when they have to deal with the real world. Ok, I started with something obvious that will still be true in 20 years and I promise not to to to keep repeating myself on this one every year.

2) The LLVM project will die. I am surprised that it has lasted this long, but it is probably costing Apple so little that it is not on management’s radar. Who needs another C compiler; perhaps 10 years ago they could have given the moribund gcc project a run for its money, but an infusion of keen people and a complete reworking of its internals has kept gcc as the leading contender to be the only C compiler developers use in 10 years time.

3) Static analysis will go mainstream. The driving force will not be developers loosing their aversion to being told of their mistakes, but because the world’s economic predicament will force them to deliver better performance in less time, ie they will be forced to use tools to help them find coding faults. The fact that various groups are starting to add hooks to the mainstream compilers (e.g., Microsoft’s Phoenix, gcc’s Dehydra), ensuring compatibility with an existing code base and making it easier for developers use, also helps. The gcc people may yet shoot themselves in the foot. Of course people will continue to develop new stand-alone tools and extract money from government to do something that sounds useful.

4) Natural language programming will finally gain a foothold. One of the big unnoticed announcements of the year was the Attempto project releasing the source code of their controlled English system.

5) The rate of gcc’s progress to world domination will accelerate. There are still quite a few market niches where gcc is a minority player (eg, embedded systems) and various compilers need to disappear for it to gain market share. Compiler writing has never been a very profitable business and compiler companies usually go bust or are taken over by hardware vendors looking for customer lock-in. The current economic situation means that compiler companies are both more likely to go bust and to not be brought, ie, their compilers will (commercially) disappear.

6) The number of people involved in writing software will continue to decline in the West and increase in the East. These days there is not a lot of difference in cost between east/west, it is the quality of developers (or rather there are more of a reasonable standard available). The declining standards in science/engineering education is the driving factor, the economic situation is just creating extra exposure.