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Re: Usability: Technical details in package descriptions?

On Wed, Jul 20, 2005 at 08:48:46PM +0200, Andreas Tille wrote:
> On Wed, 20 Jul 2005, W. Borgert wrote:
> >"Foo is a Perl-based program that..."
> >
> >"libBar is written in C..."
> >
> >"libBang is written in only 42 lines of source code..."
> >
> >"Baz has been written by me..."
> >
> >Do such descriptions justify bug reports of severity=minor?
> Well, I would guess wishlist is the right way to go and the language
> should go into debtags information as suggested by others.  The language
> a program is written in is completely irrelevant for user applications
> and might more confuse user than beeing helpful.  For librarie-dev
> packages it might be helpful because it is relevent developer information.
> Thanks for pointing this out

It seems to me that WB and Andreas make a valid point.  Why should the
user care what language a program is written in, so long as the program
works right?  Functionality is the important thing.

I see another side to it, however.  At least seven reasons occur to me
why a user might care what language a program is written in.

1.  Compiled programs (C, C++, Fortran 77, Ada, ...) usually run leaner
and faster than do interpreted ones (Perl, Python, Ruby, ...).

2.  Programs written in obscure languages may prove unmaintainable if
the original developer disappears.  Besides threatening obsolescence,
this can be a security issue.

3.  Programs written in widely used languages (C, C++, Perl,
Python, ...) may work better simply because the programmer had adequate
access during development to high-quality modules and library bindings.

4.  With a language come a mindset, an aesthetic and a development
culture.  Although one cannot speak in absolutes, generally speaking,
which program would you expect to be more focused and reliable: a
program written in C++ or an alternative written in Perl?  (On the other
hand, which of the two programs would you expect to be available

5.  Some languages are inherently more debuggable (or less bug-prone)
than others.  C++ is more debuggable than C, which itself is more
debuggable than Fortran 77.  Python is more debuggable than Perl.
Programs written in the more debuggable languages may rationally be
expected to suffer fewer bugs.

6.  Some languages enjoy not only free compilers or interpreters, but
also well written, complete free documentation.  It may not seem like
much, but a limited ideological motive may exist to promote programs
written in such languages.

7.  Some users may want to be able to read parts of the source of the
programs they use---even if they have no intention of contributing to
development.  This is Debian, after all.  Programs written in obscure
languages may be vaguely deprecated for this reason.

If it matters, the languages I personally use most on a daily basis are
Perl, Fortran 77, Octave and Bash (also occasionally C, C++ or
Python)---some of which do not rank very well by my own criteria.
However, I do tend to avoid publishing things written in Perl, because I
use Perl often and know Perl's nature.  As a user, I tend to prefer
software compiled from C/C++.  Hence the language in which a program is
implemented is somewhat relevant, at least to me.

Thaddeus H. Black
508 Nellie's Cave Road
Blacksburg, Virginia 24060, USA
+1 540 961 0920, t@b-tk.org, thb@debian.org

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