The thing to do with the future is not to forecast it, but to create it. The objective of planning should be to design a desirable future and to invent ways of bringing it about.
- Russell Ackoff, Ackoffs Fables.
People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I dont believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for circumstances they want, and, if they cant find them, make them.
- George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warrens Profession.
A couple of quotes to start off this post as I was lamenting the fact that we don't have any real software design tools as described in my last two posts. Time now to do something about it.
The .NET 2.0 Framework Class Library has approximately 29,000 types in it. Many more times that has been built in the COM world, plus the .NET world over the last 10 years. Even using Google to narrow the scope of locating a specific Customer.DLL turned up 275 hits. Of course, not all of these are .NET or even COM components, but my point is that an incredible amount of software has already been designed at the component level, but there is no easy way to reuse or leverage these assets in the way that I want from an application design perspective. In other words, why build a new customer class when a couple hundred have already been designed and built.
The design tool I am thinking of needs to be able to leverage these reusable assets. When I speak of design time, I mean the ability for a tool to dynamically access pre-built types, subclass them, add methods or properties, tie other types together and collectively compose applications based on reusable parts with some level of coding to glue it all together. This design tool is actually an application that anyone could use to compose their own applications using whatever pre-built types or components they wish to use in an easy to use fashion. The design tool would be targeted at business analysts and programmers and even power users who need to build a relatively simply application where Excel is not powerful enough, but the Visual Studio IDE and C# are too complex and time consuming to learn.
As a person that gets paid to architect and code in the Microsoft world, I have been following a nifty dynamic language called IronPython. In fact, I am really excited about IronPython as the .NET implementation is incredibly reflective, exactly what I need for the type of design tool I am talking about. IronPython is the code name of the new implementation running on .NET of the Python programming language. It supports an interactive interpreter with fully dynamic compilation. It is well integrated with the rest of the framework and makes all .NET libraries easily available to Python programmers. Also, is happens to be open source from Microsoft.
To get an idea of how powerful this dynamic language is, have a look at Jim Huginins 15 minute demo
on the MSDN site. I recommend downloading the videos to watch locally on your computer to avoid popup hassles. One interesting part is embedding IronPython in a WPF XAML application, something that I am considering for my design tool.
Now I have no intention of declaring IronPython better than any other programming languages or the foibles of duck typing
. What I am suggesting for my purpose in building a design tool for interface extensibility
for .NET types, it could not get much better for me. One of IronPython's key advantages is in its function as an extensibility layer to application frameworks written in a .NET language. It is relatively simple to integrate an IronPython interpreter into an existing .NET application framework. Once in place, downstream developers can use scripts written in IronPython that interact with .NET objects in the framework, thereby extending the functionality in the framework's interface, without having to change any of the framework's code base.
IronPython makes extensive use of reflection. When passed in a reference to a .NET object, it will automatically import the types and methods available to that object. This results in a highly intuitive experience when working with .NET objects from within an IronPython script.
Perfect for my design tool scenario. Next post, what this design tool might look like.