Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fred Brooks On COBOL's Success

(~00:53:00) Question: In your slide on the conceptual integrity examples you made a passing reference to the ones on the left were not the ones with the fan clubs, but in many cases were the successful products. Given that, just how much value is there in the conceptual integrity if the successful products don't need it ?

Fred Brooks: Now, well, look, let's take COBOL - there were very strong forces to make COBOL market successful that had nothing to do with it's excellence. COBOL is a language, it was written, it was designed to be read, not written. It was designed so that bosses could see, could understand the code that people were writing. It is a committee design. It does not have conceptual integrity. But it had the department of defense mandating it, and so talk to me about market success when you have a DOD mandate when DOD is big customer. So there are many other factors other than the inherent excellence of the product to determine the whether it's a market success

(via podcast of Fred Brooks' keynote "Collaboration and Telecollaboration in Design" at OOPSLA 2007 )

Also at around 20:35:

Fred Brooks: How many people ever got delight from COBOL ?

Update (18'Aug 2009): The question seems to be motivated by a slide that has a table from the twentieth anniversary edtion of 'The Mythical Man Month'. Quote from the book (page 202):

A little retrospection shows that although many fine, useful software systems have been designed by committees and built by multipart projects, those software systems that have excited passionate fans are those that are the products of one or a few designing minds, great designers.

Fig. 16.1 Exciting Products (page 203)


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