Language Niches (long)

Robin Becker robin at
Sun Jul 29 19:28:46 EDT 2001

In message <3B6481DB.C5AEA46 at>, Paul Prescod
<paulp at> writes
>I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. C became popular between
>twenty and thirty years ago. Its current popularity is a result of that
>early boost. Python is not typically used for "systems programming." I
>think of systems programming as the programming that goes into building
>the heart of an operating system or relational database etc.
C Lasts because it fills its niche pretty well.
>> > * Java was the only way to do client-side graphics and then evolved
>> >into "Servlets" and "EJBs"
>> Java actually represents a new thing; write once run anywhere.
>Java is not much better at that than Tcl or Python.

not at the output side, but Java is good for those anal ists who like to
type everything.

>> >
>> > * Perl was the defacto way to do sysadmining when sed and awk ran out
>> >of steam
>> so C wasn't ever that needed?
>For system administration? I would say "not much". Systems programming
>and system administration are two different thing.

you're reaching here.

>> > * Visual Basic and Tcl were the only easy way to make GUIs for their
>> >respective platforms for a long time
>> This is just nonsense. There are many ways to do CGI and even more ways
>> to do guis. You neglect all those other semi-proprietary languages. The
>> H***card one is an example. Even if you restrict Tcl to unix, Tcl is
>> only a scripting language. The Tk extension is what makes Tcl/Tk into a
>> gui platform. 
>Right. And Tcl became popular while it was only possible to program Tk
>in that one language and it lost popularity when Tk became popular in
>Python, Perl etc. That goes to the heart of my argument. Tcl's
>popularity was a side effect of the popularity of its platform. Expect
>was another driver for Tcl's popularity.
>> ... Visual basic is promoted by M$, Delphi is not and has as
>> many if not more adherents.
>Delphi came years after Visual Basic. Really, if Microsoft did not
>invent Visual Basic as a GUI-building technology the Basic language
>would be long-since dead. In fact you could argue that it is because
>Visual Basic is becoming less and less Basic-like.

so one or two years is important. Python came before and where is it;
like quality, temporal precedence isn't really the thing which
determines goodness.

>> The above is a list of languages; all are thriving. 
>Not all of them are thriving but all of them gained popularity based on
>a particular environment or niche programming task. Sometimes the
>environment got generalized (Tk and soon Visual Basic) and sometimes the
>language outgrew the environment (C). But not once did a language carve
>out its own niche based purely on technical merits (as you claim). If
>Python does so it will be the first.
>> ... For some more nearly
>> dead languages try simula, simscript etc. What was that wonderful
>> rebarbative predecessor of m4 called?
>I wasn't trying to be comprehensive. There are thousands of languages
>out there. I was demonstrating that the major languages that make up the
>modern computing landscapes did so by grabbing on to a niche or a
>particular task.
>> I consider the above to be an assertion. I certainly don't know the true
>> number of regular Python users now or in the past. Perhaps we could do
>> some comparative newsgroup posting analysis to get some idea of who's
>> programming/interested in what language. But all of the little languages
>> would be as noise to SQL and Cobol (even if you count them as languages)
>> in terms of the total code volume and economic significance.
>So your point is that SQL and Cobol carved out their large market shares
>by being technically wonderful and wonderfully stable? I find that
>extremely hard to believe. Look at the growth in the SQL standard. Look
>at the quality of the Cobol language.

evolutionarily the only good dinosaurs are chickens. SQL, Cobol and the
like were there at the right time. If Python/Tcl/VB et al are to succeed
as languages they have to have a real edge. All of these languages are
Turing complete; therefore they can only really be distinguished using
other criteria such as ease of use, matching with the problem space etc
etc. It's pretty stupid to criticize C when it's the main vehicle for

>I'm waiting for you to point out a language that was so great
>technically that it became very popular without hooking on to some
>particular niche or platform or at least having a company with a
>billion-dollar valuation behind it. This is a real problem for Python.
>It has no big company and only tiny niches.
There are no such languages. It's pretty stupid to get hooked into this
language war. Python loses to C every time if you only consider speed. C
loses to Python if you only consider ease of use. These languages are
fit in certain areas in others they are just wrong.

I have programmed translators in Fortran. It was stupid in your terms as
Fortran is an inferior language. At the time it was the highest level
language we had.

Robin Becker

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