I’ve been actively developing software for the past 17 - 18 years. When I began, back in 1987, the recommended language of choice was C. The rationale at that time being that C is a language that closely and faithfully mimics the inner workings of the underlying low level machinery.
Obsession with the infrastructure. Yes, computing infrastructure is fascinating. But what is a computer?
Mainframe is the Computer
If you asked IBM 20 years ago what is a computer, they’d tell you that the mainframe is the computer. They were selling mainframes at that time, and to them every problem looked like a nail.
Network is the Computer
At around the same time, Sun Microsystems attempted to take over the world with their slogan “Network is the computer”. The exact opposite of mainframes. Great.
Database is the Computer
Also, another big-ass vendor, Oracle, had to make an attempt to take over the world with their vision of a database being the computer. Yes, databases are fun.
Desktop is the Computer
Finally, Microsoft took a swing at it by announcing that desktop is the king. Yes, desktop is so cool, so sexy. And, as it became more and more affordable, it really started taking over the world by the storm.
Really, honestly, who cares? Why should we care? Why should we act as foot soldiers (unpaid foot soldiers, mind you) for those vendors? It’s like us paying them to bombard us with their advertising.
I must say that I’m at a loss when it comes to why are we, 20 years after these ugly vendor wards started raging, still caught in the debate. What’s in it for us? Yes, we all understand what’s in it for the vendors. But, why should we care about helping them see that their definition, their slogan wins?
It’s like getting caught in trying to define what is electricity. The producers of electric power claim that electricity is turbines that generate it. The producers of copper wires claim that electricity is wires. The producers of light bulbs claim that electricity is the end-point, the light bulbs that deliver incandescent light to our homes.
But do we, as consumers, care whose vision wins? No. All we care for is that when we turn the switch on, the room gets filled with light.
Who is Serving Whom?
My understanding has always been that we have invented computers to serve us. Now I see that all we’re doing is expending inordinate amounts of time serving them. I don’t see any justification for why this should be so, and I therefore proclaim here that it’s high time that we cease and desists and insist that all this computing infrastructure start serving our needs.
But in order for that to happen, we first must stop obsessing about the computing infrastructure. It’s about time we get over it.
Applications are Infrastructure
Just so that we’re clear on what encompasses the computing infrastructure, I’d like to point out here that it’s not only about the hardware and the middleware and the operating systems, databases, and frameworks. Application software also counts.
We all know how much we tend to obsess about the applications. Many of us find a number of software applications fascinating. Well, snap out of it! Stop serving your favorite applications, and start looking into how to make those applications serve you.
You should start looking at applications as being a kind of anomaly, a necessary evil produced out of dire necessity in the attempt to cover the gaping holes in the existing computing machinery. Applications are superfluous, and will eventually recede into the background. Today, they hold the center stage, and many people obsess about them. But that is bound to change.
Once we grow up and stop obsessing over the infrastructure, we’ll finally be ready to embrace the wonderful world of computing on our own terms. This is similar to how we had to grow up and embrace the wonderful world of printed word. It wasn’t easy, and it took some serious schooling, but eventually we managed to pull it off.
Yes, there are still pockets of illiteracy even among the most developed countries, but these are negligible compared to the overwhelming literacy that is now the cornerstone of our culture.