Monday, October 31, 2005

Technology Snake Oil 7: Demoware

I think one of the reasons that RAD tools (including ASP.NET) made significant inroads was the demoability of their development. RAD tools allow you to click and drag your way to poorly designed applications with remarkable speed. Managers who go to product launches see lots of 15 minute demonstrations of building an enterprise application that talks to a database and allows pull-down lists in the columns of the grid, all built while the speaker is talking. I know because, in a former life, I used to do some of these demos on behalf of a vendor (and I'm still repenting).

Of course, every real developer knows that you can't do real development like that. In fact, most developers now (I hope, at least) know to create layered, modular applications so that they are maintainable, updateable, and a bunch of other "-ables". But this sea change hasn't permeated most managers yet. They still purchase development tools (on behalf of developers) based on 15 minute technology demonstrations. I firmly believe this is one of the reasons Sun created Java Studio Creator for JavaServer Faces. They were getting killed in demoware sessions against Microsoft's ASP.NET story. Now, Sun can compete with Microsoft on creating useless toy applications in front of a crowd. And they say there's no such thing as progress!
This hurts development on several levels. Real developers are frustrated because their managers develop unrealistic expectations for the rate of development. Managers are frustrated because they can't figure out what their developers are doing for the weeks and weeks it takes them to build what looks on the surface like the toy application they saw someone build in front of them. And both groups are irritated at each other.

I'm not against productivity tools (I'm not a "use-linux-and-Emacs-for-everything-everyone-else-is-a-wimp" kind of Stallman-esque developer. I use IDE's and appropriate tools, including some of the aforementioned RAD tools, although not in the manner suggested above. In fact, I have a tool fetish that I must constantly fight (you know, Emacs is pretty darn powerful in a lot of circumstances). I am against vendors who try to seduce managers and other non-techies with shiny objects that don't really deliver the promise of the snake oil they sell.


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