Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good IDEa? [posted Dec. 7th 2006 22:41]

Today it occured to me, and a short scan on the net indicates that I've not been the first to think of this (although not many went before me, that should probably say enough...) that it might actually be a good idea to have a web based IDE.

Not only would it be so much a coding IDE as a collaborative environment for developing software. A choice of workplace flexibility, methods, collaborative patterns, collaborative tools, testing strategies, testing facilities, management tools, productivity measurements, project refactorings, code protection, deployment support could be offered. Hows that for an Integrated Development Environment?

As I said I quickly perused the web to see if I wasn't landing last weeks news and found the following:

Of course Goolge has a beta but that looks pretty pre alpha
Someone thought an XML web based IDE would be a good thing
Obie Fernandez thought in september of 2005 of an web based IDE baseed on Ruby on Rails, cool.
another pre alpha
And finaly ECCO that seems to be the most mature of the lot

As I said this rather unsatisfactory result indicates that this idea is probably not as hot as I would like it to be. Personnaly I would love the idea that I could just open a browser on any computer in the world and work on my own pass time projects or projects that I do for a living not having to worrie about if I have the sources, the tools/libs/docs required.

It seems ideal if I want to just test something in Ruby or Groovy or J2EE (or some language I know even less about) to be able to just select a project and in a wizzard like interface tag the options for the kind of application or project or test method and a project is set up, the IDE has the features needed for the specific language and you just start coding. Build scripts, unit test database connections, everything just works since I didn't have to think about how to configure them. That means I can try out and develop an idea in a few hours, the time I usally now am busy trying to get a new compiler and database up and running.

The tremendous collaboration tooling available on the web can be integrated in development and the deliverables of the development process can all be part of the same environement. The possibilities to support projects in terms of methodolgy/project management/code and other deliverables quality/traceability far exceed what can be reached by a set of seperate tools even if they are individually web based (RUP has a intranet based deliverables management tool/Jira or other issue management tool/wiki for collaboration/basecamp for project colaboration/etc) This is for an important part due to the fact that the most important deliverables; models and code are in the vast majority of cases produced on tools based on a single computer/IDE instance. Although code (code or models I see them both as more or less the same in light of this discussion, so lets call them both code for now) is managed in a repository, the actual centre of its manipulation and evaluation is done on an individual computer that needs specific tools installed that usually don't integrate with the other tools just mentioned. And although the individual collaborative tools mentioned above are very good at what they do having one tool that would span all that functionality only half as good would win hands down in productivity/project quality terms just because the integration would allow far better leverage of content.

This kind of environment would possibly have a better protection against code "leaving" a project to become some other projects asset. This would off course not be relavant to open source projects but there are a lot of non open source projects that might have persons responsible that would be really glad about this kind of security.

Open source project would benefit greatly by the fact that a very off the wall project setup in terms of tooling/libs/test setup or whatever would be no problem to new project memebers. They would spend no time getting their environment setup to be able to actually contribute something to the project.

I realise that it is kind of a big brother idea to have someone have the potential to fully control/measure/evaluate everything that is done by the individuals on a project in terms of lines of code written, number of testcases created, number of fixes on a unit of code, the fact that code is related to other deliverables (technical designs, isseus, testscripts), the hours somebody is working, etc etc. Most of these things can theoretically be monitored now aswell, were it not that it would take a lot of effort combining a diverse set of tools (if tools are used at all). I'm sure a lot of project managers would be very happy that they would have all this information. To be frank I think I would not be too unhappy that my project managers would see on what silly things I have to spend my time. But that is in the current, far from ideal, lots of tools, way of working I'm faced with today, not the bright new world of the true IDE.

Too Lua time [posted Nov. 5th 2006 10:38]

Every now and again something interesting comes along, nowadays they come more and more frequently so it seems. Recently I bumped into Lua. It is a free dynalic programming language that has been around since 1993 (shows you how "with it" I am to find this only now ;-)) and was developed in Brazil (the user conferences seems very appealing). It "combines simple procedural syntax with powerful data description constructs based on associative arrays and extensible semantics. Lua is dynamically typed, runs by interpreting bytecode for a register-based virtual machine, and has automatic memory management with incremental garbage collection, making it ideal for configuration, scripting, and rapid prototyping", nothing too revolutionairy abou tthat.

The cool thing is that is build to be extendable: "A fundamental concept in the design of Lua is to provide meta-mechanisms for implementing features, instead of providing a host of features directly in the language. For example, although Lua is not a pure object-oriented language, it does provide meta-mechanisms for implementing classes and inheritance. Lua's meta-mechanisms bring an economy of concepts and keep the language small, while allowing the semantics to be extended in unconventional ways. Extensible semantics is a distinguishing feature of Lua."

Ok so that makes the list of languages to learn: Groovy (Wikipedia), LISP/Scheme/,Dylan (Wikipedia), Haskell (Wikipedia), Erlang (Wikipedia), Lua (Wikipedia), Pluvo (Wikipedia knows not of Pluvo),...

Express [posted Nov. 1st 2006 00:27]

Some time back I was discussing MDA principles (with you know who) and it struck me that UML is a great way to express ones thoughts in a structured visual way (being able to communicate a lot in a relatively easy to understand compact manner) but it or rather the tools one has to use to create it are very ineffective/inefficient. I have wondered many times how it can be that modelling tools have only a fraction of the capabilities that modern IDE's have whereas they are used to do the same thing (persist abstract thought in a structured manner). Not only are they used for the same thing they are used by people doing both modelling and coding. MOreover they are written/created by people working on IDE's. Why doesn't anybody creating a modelling tool seem to be bothered by the fact that making models is pretty inefficient. There further is usually very minimal or no support for team modelling, version control, authorisation, merging, configuration management and so on.

Setting my frustration on all these points appart I was mainly p***ed off with the fact that one, in most cases, cannot write UML like you can write code. Not that I love writing code but I can write code a hell of lot faster than I can model the same amount of meaning into UML. Wouldn't it be great if you could just write UML like code. At the moment I think you would have to write your own text to UML/XMI converter to do that or use the OMG standards of which I don't know if there are many implementations (other than producing text rather than using it as a bases) or write XMI directly if you're a real die hard. That would however not even speed up things since XMI is rather verbal. Ron once pointed out that most developers are text oriented rather than picture/figure oriented, suppose that is true for me.

Anyway to take this though a bit further I thought about why not using Java as a language to code ones model in. It is a language that has a meta language definition so why not use the OMG MDA principles to convert it to UML and from there do the [www.omg.org/mda/|MDA] thing. A more dynamic approach with more possibilities could be achieved using a more dynamic language I assumed. This led me to [www.ruby-lang.org/|Ruby] or possibly Groovy (which Ron pointed out to me). The last seemed close to dying at the time and I focussed on Ruby. Not too much later Ruby on Rails began its much famed rise. When I saw the use [http://www.loudthinking.com/|DHH] made of Ruby I was confident that Ruby would be able to deliver what was needed. It actually opened new ideas/possibilities and hopefully would make my life easier.

The idea was to create a framwork that woud support two things.

First it would support code generation based on the principle of enabling domain modelling and defining platform specific artifacts in architectural patterns, a marking model (an idea borrowed from the MDA Workbench) or Aspects. In other words the domain model stays clean and close to the language of the business and as abstract and precise as possible.

Secondly the framework would support prototyping. The importance of prototyping cannot be underestimated I think. In all projects that I have ever worked on I have seen that having something to look at and preferably work with will bring so much more understanding and inspiration to future users of a system than any model that I have ever made. It is with this that Ruby on Rails will hopefully take a lot of work out of my hands. Yes I would like to have frased this "it took a lot of work out of my hands" but I have been busy too much doing client satisfaction.

These two features would give an executable model that would be as abstract as possible and would take as little coding as possible. The executable model would help the definition of the content of the model and at any given time the model could be used to generate code fit for different platforms and architectures. This double cutting sword would possibly be more complex than a static code generation tool, but it would ensure succesfull short cycled iterations. This approach would possibly prevent a lot of hassle with round trip engineering since the code would evolve in the model and the code would hopefully only be generated to enable installing it in the target environment to test it on non functional requirements.

The way things are modelled in the dynamic model is along the lines of RoR (in fact when I first saw the "has_many" style of relationship declaration in RoR it scared me thinking DHH had created everything I thought of already) extending on it to hold more details to enable successfull generation. In fact the extensions or added information (hashes) could be specific for a certain platforms/architecture and not interfere with other target platforms. However, this is probably better addressed with marking model like constructs. The extensions will not interfere with the workings of the RoR framework allowing that to work its magic. Since the platform/architecture of that is set and proven to work the prototyping/dynamic modelling environment is ready to go.

One of the hard bits will be to generate code other than Ruby from the code written in the RoR/dynamic model. To enable this it will probably be necessary to code as much as possible in a generic way not doing any of the Ruby magic since that leaves relatively straight translation into say Java or .Net nearly impossible.

At the moment Groovy seems to be more alive than ever and JRuby is going strong. These are important it seems to me. Not because I think Ruby is not capable of doing a good job but because Java is a much more accepted language and runtime environment which is not something to take lightely in the Enterprise world. It seems to me that having a JVM as a base is more than welcome in getting companies having Enterprise environments to accept concepts like the one described here. Whatever one may think of Enterprise environments I have enough respect for them not to want to be the one standing outside having all the right ideas.

Enough talk/writing for now, time to proof that it can be done. Hopefully, with a little (or lot of) help from a my friends we can show it works soon. Any ideas on a name for the framework are welcome ;-).

Rails might be Ruby's killing application [posted Nov. 1st 2006 00:27]

Recently I held a presentation on Ruby and Ruby on Rails and one of the conclusions I drew at the end surprised me/hit me just when I wrote these conclusions only an hour before presenting.

The only way that Ruby will get out of its niche position is when it can enter the Enterprise world. It has been doing so not directly but certainly ideas that were, in my mind, formed from Ruby concepts like dependency injection have penetrated the Enterprise world.

The main driving force behind a lot that is going on in the Ruby world at the moment and certainly the source of attention is the Ruby killer app Ruby on Rails. However since it is opinionated software and it has a very opinionated (not to say irritating at times) front man in the shape of [http://www.loudthinking.com/|David Heinemeier Hansson] eager to proof the Enterprise world wrong it could well be that if the Ruby community doesn't get the message accross that Ruby is not only RoR, Ruby will never get into the Enterprise environment.

YAMT [posted Oct. 31st 2006 22:48]

If two MDA tools are not enough Ron found another yet another mda tool out there called Acceleo. On the site it is described as: " Acceleo is the most powerful code generator tool of its generation. It has been designed to improve software development productivity." and it continues to explain: "Based on the Eclipse and EMF standards, Acceleo brings to everyone the MDA approach applied to development industrialization."

It is an open source MDA tool of which the creators sell a Pro verison that has extra features, prefab domain specific modeling and generation templates.

Acceleo was created by Obeo a small French company. It is a very practicle/pragmatic tool based on eclipse which makes clever use of all the editor facilities to facilitate the user in relatively easily making genration templates and generating code from UML(2) models.

Wikipedia has the following on Acceleo, I'm afraid it was written by the people who made it though.

It can be found on the Eclipse plugins site. They have further turned it into a project on the ObjectWeb.

My colleague Pascal has spent some time of late to get Acceleo to generate .Net code based on an architecture derived form the Domain Driven Design book using NHibernate as a OR mapping/persistency framework. Hopefully Pascal will share some of his experiences here soon.

Today Ron, Pascal and I had a conference call with one of the CEO's/creators of Obeo/Acceleo. He demoed the new Pro version and we were very impressed by the features that holds over the open source version. Traceablility from model to code is a big feature and very well executed.

If you are looking for an MDA tool to quickly help you on your way and well enough set up to very probably be around and usefull in the years to come you should definately check out Acceleo.

MDA tools [posted Oct. 31st 2006 21:34]

So what happened over the last year, well a lot, and very little came out of my hands except the projects that I worked on for clients. Not the most interesting stuff.

However, my neighbour in the mean time came up with two MDA tools. The first, called MDA Workbench eventually made it into the open source world. You can find it at SourceForge.net. It is described as "Capgemini's MDA Workbench is a powerful, simple MDA tool implemented as an Eclipse plug-in. The MDA Workbench allows for creating (UML) model-to-code mappings, markings and lifecycle management from model to code. Proven in very large and small projects.

As if that was not enough Ron went on and created AmplifyMDA. This MDA tool has the tagline "Amplify MDA is an open source Eclipse-based IDE that enables the generation of software components from high-level (usually UML) models. Components can be generated for any programming language (Java, Ruby, HTML, PHP, ?)".

Please do check both of these tools out. A lot of thought went into them and they have proven to be very pragmatic and usefull. And they proof once again that life's not about doing projects that customer pay for but about things that one feels passionate about. I can only say I am humbled by what Ron managed to do in the last year and I feel lucky he is willing to go and have a beer with me once in a while ;-).

Was it over a year ago [posted Oct. 31st 2006 19:55]

Wohw, they say time flies when your having fun ad that time goes faster the older you get, but I didn't know I was having this much fun nor that I was so old.....

Talking about old, my sister has her birthday today so Happy Birthday to her! Will be back after I call her and write some more. Glad to see everything stll working and hope there are still some people out there reading this. If so, thanks for hanging in there ;-).