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Gates: Hardware, Not Software, Will Be Free 993

orthogonal writes "That's small-'f', not capital-'F' free: according to Bill Gates, "Ten years out, in terms of actual hardware costs you can almost think of hardware as being free -- I'm not saying it will be absolutely free --...." Gates expects this almost free hardware to support two of the longest awaited breakthroughs in computing: real speech and handwriting recognition. He further predicts -- ugh! -- that software will not be written but visually designed."
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Gates: Hardware, Not Software, Will Be Free

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  • Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SlashDread ( 38969 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:01AM (#8713172)

    but who will visually debug the visual designer?

  • Yeah, right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by michaelwb ( 612222 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:01AM (#8713174)
    Is this kind of like in the 50s when some expert said that nuclear power was going to make electricity free?
  • Free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by n9uxu8 ( 729360 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:02AM (#8713182) Homepage
    Heck...if I made Bill's salary, I'd already think of hardware as free. In any case, if I was running a company and had global influence, what better model could there be than to dictate that the hardware required to run my product should be (virtually) free, but that my product is too valuable to be expected to be given away. DAve
  • Please Bill.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#8713188) Homepage Journal

    Nice try, Bill.

    He's saying the tangible parts of the system (the hardware) will be virtually free while the freely duplicated software will not be. Fabrication plants cost millions, each chip has a real cost, each resistor has a real cost. Software, once written, can be copied countless times..

    You'd think Bill had a vested interest in all this..
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The One KEA ( 707661 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#8713189) Journal
    Indeed - and how likely is it that a visually-designed program will be even worse than a text program, considering that most programs will end up "looking pretty" in the program editor but act positively horrible for the enduser...
  • Hrmmmm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#8713191) Homepage Journal
    Dell (and other box manufacturers) cannot be happy about such a statement. After all, their entire business model is dependent upon making a profit assembling wrappers for different flavors of Windows. So, even though they tried with Linux to diversify somewhat and protect themselves some time ago (only to be spanked back by Microsoft), their fortunes are irrevocably tied to the success (or failure) of Microsoft.

    I suppose that this could be construed as the ultimate embrace and extend (then smother) approach though, right? Get a huge number of companies to support your position and build your company and then overnight, take all of their business revenues over in one way or another.

    As for Gates predilection for predictions..... I would like to see fewer grandiose predictions (although speech recognition and tablets and visual programming are decidedly not grandiose and are in fact products shipping and under development by a number of companies) and more fundamental focus on making Microsoft products suck less.

  • by neoform ( 551705 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#8713194) Homepage
    Of course, microsoft isn't in the hardware market, so they can say whatever they want.
  • Bill is right (Score:2, Insightful)

    by coldtone ( 98189 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:05AM (#8713217)
    Paper is almost free, it's whats on the paper that has value.

  • Bill Gates + free (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:06AM (#8713218)
    To the richest man in the world, everything must seem damn near free. Thats a retarded comment since he even says "not absolutely free".
  • by CharAznable ( 702598 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:07AM (#8713225)
    Even if software development becomes putting lego blocks together, it's not going to make specifying algorithms, keeping track of data structures and debugging any easier.
    Billy should know better.
  • by dupper ( 470576 ) * <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:07AM (#8713229) Journal
    Where your Pong program runs through 14 levels of OLE and runs at 3 FPS.
  • Re:Free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtwJGuevara ( 749094 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:07AM (#8713230)
    This might be what he is getting at here. I'm still a youngster and didn't get into computing until the mid 90's, but from what I know the idea used to be the opposite - that software came free (little f) or at very little cost to benefit the very highly priced hardware components that were needed. Apparently Bill is going the reciprocal route and wants the hardware to come free or at a very inexpensive cost to support his high priced software. This would only make since in his vision since such a scenario would result in better bottom line numbers for Microsoft and the evil organization potentially has enough power over the long term to do such a thing.
  • Re:Hrmmmm.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bitchell ( 159219 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:08AM (#8713238) Journal
    "Dell (and other box manufacturers) cannot be happy about such a statement"

    Surly such a statement would mean that Microsoft are planning to buy dell and give ther stuff away, locking people into windows forever and ever. Oh wait people are already locking into windows forever and ever.
  • I can imagine how (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sumocide ( 114549 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:08AM (#8713239)
    With the help of Trusted Computing/Palladium. Like portable phones today, which may have a SIM lock and can only be used with a certain provider.

    You'll get free TCPA enabled hardware but it'll only let you run software by a certain company, software you'll have to pay for.

  • by superdan2k ( 135614 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:08AM (#8713241) Homepage Journal
    And Bill Gates frequently talks out of his ass. I seem to recall that the Web wasn't important (and then we got IE a year later), that MS Bob was going to make computers usable by everyone, and that no one would need more than 640K of RAM.
  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:08AM (#8713242) Homepage

    Yet, hardware has gone down in price from where it was in the mid 80's while software has gone up.

  • by willtsmith ( 466546 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:08AM (#8713253) Journal

    Wow another great prediction from the anti-psychic Bill Gates.

    Sorry Bill, but software is far more replicable than hardware. It's the SOFTWARE that is becoming more free as we go along.

    As far as visual goes, I don't think that's correct. He's envisioning a workflow type application for controlling logic. Diagramming most code is far more difficult then simply writing it. 4GL is a pipe dream.

    I DO believe that future programmers will be more like carpenters. High levels of modularity will make custom software construction as practical as cutting and nailing/gluing/screwing together the components down at Home Depot. Programs that ARE sold will be far more extensible (plugin enabled) with managed code.

    The future of software is changing. As usual, Gates doesn't have a clue. He was right about ONE thing 30 years ago. He swindled the owners of Q-DOS and IBM. He's been riding that ever since.

  • by gilesjuk ( 604902 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:11AM (#8713285)
    Just like Gillette virtually give away their shaving handles and printers cost next to nothing they're going towards making PCs like games consoles.

    What is worrying is you can only succeed if you make you product unable to be used for anything else. So for games consoles you have to make it near impossible for anyone else to be able to write software (especially free software) for the device. For printers you need to make sure that nobody else can supply ink.

    There's no such thing as a free lunch, you pay one way or another. If the hardware is next to free then the software will be subsidising it. The problem is for this to work for Microsoft they need a PC platform that can't run Linux, so I can see that their inroads into the BIOS, DRM etc... (see XBox for the beginnings of an implementation) are quite worrying.

    Of course there will never be a situation where there won't be an x86 platform that can't run Linux, it is too popular in Japan, India and China.
  • by phillymjs ( 234426 ) <slashdot.stango@org> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:13AM (#8713313) Homepage Journal
    And what onerous restrictions will I have to agree to to receive and use said free hardware?

    How many laws will be purchased be the large companies so Cuecat-esque hardware EULAs will actually have teeth and be enforceable?

  • Puhleeeez...... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:14AM (#8713320)

    Hardware costs will fall sharply within a decade to the point where widespread computing with speech and handwriting won't be limited by expensive technology, Microsoft Corp. (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news) Chairman Bill Gates (news - web sites) said on Monday.

    This looks like a quote from 10 years ago talking about today. In '93, an "entry level" PC cost upwards of $2000. Today, an entry level machine that is far more capable costs only 10% of that. Not to mention that the $200 price tag represents a now miniscule fraction of most people's income.

    I would say that hardware is already "free" when compared to software. This is becuase you can buy a $200 machine (real tangible manufacturing cost per unit) and put a $200 copy of Windows (with no real production cost) on it. I am sure that the hardware prices can go lower, but hardware is already a commodity. Software has yet to become a true commodity.

  • by JetScootr ( 319545 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:15AM (#8713332) Journal
    Several years ago (more than I care to admit), where I work, the mainframe manufacturer offered free hardware if we would continue to pay the software licenses. Free hardware meant an entirely new mainframe, ten years younger than what we already were running on.
    Now we're running on Unix, and saving money. Bill's just blowing smoke, telling us his dreams.
  • A step backwards? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dspfreak ( 666482 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:17AM (#8713348)
    He further predicts -- ugh! -- that software will not be written but visually designed.

    Just like programmable logic! Errr, wait. It seems like (visual) schematic capture is what gets used if you don't have a real FPGA designer, so somebody has to wear a new hat that doesn't know (textual) languages like VHDL or Verilog. I don't know anyone who knows VHDL or Verilog that would want to do a design in schematic capture.

    So if the same thing will apply, people who don't know how to program will use graphical programming, and people who do will write real code. Graphical programming won't be the only (or best) way to go, it will just be more approachable.

    Maybe we'll be lucky and soon this will be an easy way to separate the wheat (real computer scientists and software engineers) from the chaff ("coders" who want the easiest way to make a few bucks).

  • Re:I hope not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eagle5596 ( 575899 ) <.gro.6955. .ta. .resUhsals.> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:17AM (#8713351)
    This is why you need to study computer science, rather than "programming". Programming is a skill that can be useful, but is, by its very nature, transient. Remember, at one point in time, auto mechanics were considered a very skilled white collar position.

    Computer Science on the other hand, is a mathematical discipline which involves working out how to do things better, faster, and with less energy. It's about algorithm design, and ways in which to make a computer most efficiently process mathematical representations. It'll be useful far beyond the use of general "coding".

    Coding itself is becoming more and more prevalent. I have many friends who aren't even scientists who know how to code, and were even required to for their humanities classes (from English, to History, to Foreign Language). This is a good thing, IMHO. Coding is a great general purpose skill.

    Don't devote your life to the practice of programming, devote it to understanding why certain things work better, and how to further refine our techniques of computation. Work on understanding the hardwaresoftware interface, and you open up all kinds of new fields, from embedded engineering, to robotics.

    Take the hint from the majority of good Universities who teach computer science, where you are simply expected to pick up a language in your spare time, because that aspect is secondary to the theory, and the easier of the two.
  • by psycho_tinman ( 313601 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:17AM (#8713356) Journal

    For Microsoft and for a lot of other companies, I think the realization has dawned that concentrating on hardware is a losing proposition .. (Hello, Sun ? are you listening ? Maybe you know better than these guys). As a counterpoint, though, I'd like to offer Apple and their iPod/iTunes strategy. Offer software on the cheap to push out the hardware..

    You may upgrade your machine once every 6 months to an year.. However, your software would be service oriented, so you'd be bled dry as updates/small missing features and patches were charged for. A constant stream of revenue, with margins that can't be squeezed out due to competing manufacturers and improving manufacturing processes. A steadier way of earning revenue, if you will. This is what I would imagine Microsoft to want.

    Here's the problem, though. The free software genie has been let out of the bottle. Just like the lowered price on the XBox made several people (myself included) think about buying one for a low cost machine and installing Linux on it, if there is a free software alternative that will run on this free hardware, you will get people using it. Ultimately, this will just lead to stronger protection against "illegal" modifications to the software.. For example, if you get a PC free, you must run Windows on it, and never format it to install Linux.. something along those lines. He wants it. I personally do not. Cheaper hardware is good, but I want choice in what software I use and I don't think being locked into one company will offer me this.

    I agree with his point about visual software though. VB was tremendously popular for that reason. Because it let people quickly design interfaces and software that sort of worked. For folks who don't do programming for a living (and maybe a few who do), the thought of whipping out something that they can actually use on their own computer is a tremendously appealing notion. More than anything else, Visual Basic helped a whole new bunch of people (who might otherwise have not programmed at all) get into the software industry. The problem is: who will write the server side software ? Who will perform the tweaks ? Who will administer and optimize and tune things ? The need for programmers and for code crunching won't go away overnight, and I doubt it will go away at all. There are advantages to textual representations (as opposed to visual ones) in existing tool support, and there are also advantages in that textual means of representing a problem work on many different paradigms (not just client interfaces).

  • It already is (Score:2, Insightful)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:19AM (#8713369)
    It depends on what you are willing to pay for it. If you are interested in the hardware that is 10 years old and run software that is ten years old, you already have almost free PC's now.

    However most people are intersted in the latest buttons to click, the latest version to download and so on.

    I pay now about the same price I payed 8 years ago. The result is I have a much faster machine that runs an OS that needs much more power, because I want to look at two screens in 1600*1200 at the same time.

    I think the amount that people will be willing to spend will be the same. There now is a larger range of PC's so that people who have a lower treshhold are buying PC's now. They never would have done so in the past.

    I can imagine that Bill Gates would love to have cheaper hardware. That would mean people will be willing to pay even more for their software.

    Take for example that I am willing to pay 5% of my income for a PC. Now almost the entire 5% is hardware. If the hardware is only 0.5%, then 4.5% can be software.

    The same goes for companies who have a certain amount to spend as IT budget.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MooCows ( 718367 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:19AM (#8713382)
    Not that I've seen the source code, but something tells me Windows does not "look pretty" on Microsoft's side.
  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:23AM (#8713419)
    The problem every ignorant OSS-ONLY kid and zealot tends to forget, Software Has A Design Cost.

    Yes, once it is developed, it can be copied 'freely', in quotes because I do not want to put out the same connotation as others may want to read into this.

    To get to that point, you have thousands of manhours put into the development. After you get to that point, thousand more manhours are put into maintaining it. Where does the money come from? Are we just going to change our motos to Off The People For The People and put up our hammers and sickles? I *LOVE* OSS and I contribute to several projects (as well as having convinced my employeer to OSS some stuff in the past of which I maintained until it got to be more of a job than what I was being paid for -- and not interesting enough to do outside of work).

    Too many people have this complete all or nothing hippy commie perspective on OSS. They think love and hugs will get everything done. It might in the future. It might after a revolution where Haliburton doesn't control the free world. It might when there is free healthcare and folks aren't living under the bridge down the street from me and the mentally ill are not turned out on their own simply because they are not a threat to others.

    Software has a cost. Do what you can to promote free software and free speech and your damn group hugs, but realize some of us need to eat as well.

    Posted anonymously as a test to see if anyone is paying attention or if this will just be rated a troll as /.'rs are like to do.
  • by BigGerman ( 541312 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:24AM (#8713435)
    >>What is worrying is you can only succeed if you make you product unable to be used for anything else.
    Exactly. But at the same time your product must remain inter-operable with others on higher, meta-level: your game console should be able to connect to the Internet, your printer should be able to connect to various computers, etc.
    So the result of these two trends will be the world of higly specialized nearly disposable devices you can plug in and out as needed.
    Tinkering will be reduced to meta-tinkering and the ability to introduce new "device" to the net.
  • by HiredMan ( 5546 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:25AM (#8713443) Journal
    Hardware requires factories to make components, people to assemble them, trucks to ship them and people to sell them. It can never be free.

    The only way for the computer to be "free" is the way cell phones are now "free". When you sign-up for 3 years of M$ OS/Office suite subscription, MSN broadband with obligatory Passport suppport for on-line shopping and agree to transfer $500 to that account you will get a "free" PC. Ignore the fact that you will be paying $100/month to M$ for that "free" PC.

    This fits in well with the M$ philosophy of business - they don't really care what "product" they sell as long as it comes with a M$ EULA and license. Check my journal for a more detailed look at the M$ business plan.

  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ubergrendle ( 531719 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:27AM (#8713465) Journal
    Hardware is measurable in a physical sense. So many transitors per mm, how many units a factory can produce in 'n' period of time, benchmarks against some algorithms...

    But for software, it is much more difficult to measure improvement in a quantitative sense. It can be done, but not easily if the vendor wants to muddy the waters. I believe feature creep & bloat in Windows is to prevent direct comparisons with previous iterations of the product.

    Although hardware costs have come down, its the result of competition in the free market, easily understood and measured as a physical good. Microsoft OS? They've become more expensive, with less value add in each iteration.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by StrawberryFrog ( 67065 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:28AM (#8713475) Homepage Journal
    but who will visually debug the visual designer?

    It's like saying "all software will be written in high-level, garbage-collected languages like Java, C#, python, perl, et al".

    Rebutals that "yeah, but what is the Java runtime written in?" or "the OS kernel has to be written in C" are true, but miss the point - these activities are niches, so the original statement is over-general but mostly true. Most application software will be written at a higher level.

    ... but visual design? You can only do so much by aranging controls on forms with drag and drop.

  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:29AM (#8713485) Journal
    Visual programming is one of the canonical examples of "Gee, I have no clue how it works but wouldn't it be really cool if...". Nobody has a clue how to do significant programming in it; it's never even had a decent prototype, let alone any reason to think it will work in general.

    Sure, there are isolated instances of it being useful, mostly in drawing flow diagrams for signal processing, but that's far from the general case.

    Other then that, though, it's been a miserable failure. Software doesn't look like anything in real life, and real life metaphors are effectively useless for manipulating it. Every tried to use a multi-level UML diagram, where each box contains boxes that contain boxes? That's what visual programming looks like. A confusing, ultra-hyper-dimensional object, where every detail is critical (even the ones you can't see), where to understand a system requires hundreds of little abstract entities on the screen.

    Software has more "moving parts", by factors of magnitude, then any other human endeavor; the largest software projects dwarf the complexity (in part count) of even the Space Shuttle. (We get away with it because we use effectively 100% reliable parts, whereas the Space Shuttle does not, the problems that causes and the solutions they require mean the Space Shuttle is still IMHO a superior engineering work to an office suite. Nevertheless, don't make the mistake of underestimating the complexity of software; even the smallest program can dwarf a small car in complexity.)

    With a clearer understanding of what is being asked for, it is easy to see that visual programming has been a disaster for fundamental reasons, not ones that can be abstracted away. Imagine the Mozilla source code. It contains megabytes upon megabytes of code. Each and every line must be represented to understand the whole correctly (although no one person may need to understand the whole.) One way or another each line must be represented on the screen; if you're trying to do it "visually", then you're hosed. You can't abstract "(cutcrn*)DO_LOAD((void *)nm_mungl, andlefle->getLumpiness(MAX_LOAD_LUMP_COUNT, (int)uniQuad), USER_MACROS(LOAD));" visually, because you'll either lose critical information, or have an unusably cluttered screen.

    There's just no way around it.

    "But what if I design special modules that can be hooked together cleanly?" Then you'll have special modules that can be hooked together cleanly, as long as they do exactly what you need, which they won't. We also have tons of experience with such special modules, and they never work completely in general. You can build a DSP out of such things and that's about it... and even then, that's just compositing the existing DSPs together, I wouldn't want to build the insides in a visual language in the general case. (You could get some milage out of it, but you'd still be shelling out to text code.)

    You think I'm wrong, you think you have some clever way to reduce the amount of necessary information on the screen without throwing away something the user needs, show me the code. To date, nobody else has managed that, despite a lot of trying by smart and dedicated people, and given that we clearly don't need faster computers to do "visual programming", I think you ought to consider that a damned big clue before you consider punching the "Reply" button and making vague, hand-wavy gestures to the effect that I'm wrong.

    Consider the source: I think there's a reason you're hearing this from Bill Gates, who probably hasn't coded significantly in decades, and not the .Net team, who probably are also cringing and shaking their heads privately as well.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:30AM (#8713497)
    Hardware will never be free as long as software continues to bloat with an ever-expanding list of core features and peopel continue to believe the MHz myth.

    At one level, hardware can already be free. I saw a small PDA with about the same specs as the original Palm Pilot selling for $19.95. Yet such devices are NOT popular because everyone wants the latest wiz-bang features on their PDA.

    Its the same reason why laptops get such aweful battery life. I'm sure that someone could create a very functional laptop with a 50 MHz processor that does a competent job running a basic office suite and have superb battery life. As a real-life example, my Psion 5Mx gets 30 hours on 2 AAs and does a great job of basic office work on a 37 MHz ARM processor. You don't need battery-sucking GHz to do the job.

    Yet nobody wants to buy "under-powered" devices because they have been trained for 2 decades by Wintel that they must have the fastest machine to get decent performance.
  • by naelurec ( 552384 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:32AM (#8713531) Homepage
    Cost of PC hardware continues to drop. Not only does it continue to drop, but people find that their systems are useful for significantly longer than systems from 10 years ago (ie I know lots of people still using 5-6 year old 300Mhz machines and happy with them).

    So lets say the trend continues .. you might theoretically buy a computer 10 years from now that can last 8-9 years and only cost $300-$400. Of course, if MS gets its way, software will be essentially subscription based where for only $30/mo you get the latest Microsoft antivirus, office, windows, media player, digital content, etc..

    Looking at TCO over the period of the computer -- computer hardware = $400, software/services = $3240. So yah, hardware will be essentially free..
  • Seriously... (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:33AM (#8713535)
    Okay, Hardware is going to be so cheap it's almost free... ...why? because the whole world is going to stop doing R&D, and there will be no new systems? Come now BillG, have your calculations shown you that 640 Gigs should be enough for everyone? I'm sure Win-bloze will need more than that by the time my desktop has that much.

    "Hardware will be free and Software will not." Translation: "I sell software not hardware, and I'm going to unethically leverage my monopoly until I get all your $$. Also I think you are too dumb to see how absurd my lies are. That'll be $199 per license please."

  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dashing Leech ( 688077 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:33AM (#8713537) likely is it that a visually-designed program will be even worse than a text program...

    Depends on how it is done. There are some well designed visual modeling & simulation development tools for electronics (Simulink, PSpice, etc.) and mechanical systems (finite element, etc.) These do a relatively good job of simulating "systems". Software processes are not that different from physical processes in electronics and mechanical system. Software rules (e.g., syntax) are analagous to physical laws.

    I actually think this is a good idea, if done properly (i.e., not by Microsoft). I'd be a little surprised if this hasn't already been done, I guess nobody has done it well yet.

    Perhaps a good open source project. In fact, it could be a big stepping stone for open source. If visual programming (no, not as in Visual C/C++, Basic, etc.) makes programming easier and faster, think of how many more people (like me) could get involved in open source projects. I actually really like this idea.

  • by Shirotae ( 44882 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:34AM (#8713544)

    See The Last One [] for a writeup from 1981 of "a program which could become the last one ever written by a human being." The hype was spectacular, but those with some clue knew that while it would be useful in a narrow application domain, it would not make any significant dent in the quantity of code being written.

    Bill Gates may be rich, but I don't believe his prediction that programming will somehow magically become simpler, and be done with visual tools any more that it could be automated 20 years ago. Writing the code may seem hard to those who do not do it, but knowing what code to write is much harder, and the kind of tools Bill was talking about are not going to do much to help there.

    As for hardware prices, for general purpose systems, we now get a lot more for slightly less money than we did a few years ago, and this pattern seems to be fairly constant. I see nothing to suggest that the trend will not continue. More things will have embedded chips, and they will become even cheaper, but with general purpose machines we will continue to increase what we want from them to consume all the extra processing, memory etc. that can be bought for the same money.

  • Re:Free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Golias ( 176380 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:34AM (#8713550)
    The problem is, why would I put a $150 OS and $600 Office suite on my free computer, when Linux + Open Office would allow me a totally free system?

    $750 of Microsoft software for a $2500 computer didn't seem like all that much to most people back in the 1990s, but the times, they are a-changin'.

  • Gillette model? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:37AM (#8713569) Journal
    Although he claims it will be falling prices, somehow I see the Gillette model creeping in (give away the razor, sell the blades at a premium) - mainly because the hardware will never be "free," as there is always manufacturing cost involved.

    Basically, what he's saying is that hardware prices will drop to the point where they can charge for software and give the hardware away for free. I find this quite ironic because it used to be the other way around - sell the hardware at a premium and toss the software in for free.

    If I had my way, hardware prices would drop to nothing as Bill proposed, and I'd create free software for it, making it a free-for-all... nah, it'll never happen, but wishful thinking :)
  • by Ripp ( 17047 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:39AM (#8713589) Journal
    Somewhere I once saw a quote to the effect of "As evolved as we are the perceived best interface to a computer is to, in effect, point and grunt (WIMP) as opposed to actually communicating with the machine (CLI)." (Someone have the original?)

    Now Billco(tm) wants to devolve the computer user futher. Now we can scratch some icons out on the cave walls and create a program? Gee, thanks, Bill! Don't get me wrong, I'm not a CLI zealot by any means.

    I've done some "visual" programming in the past (LabView from NI) and while it was OK for simple Input->process->output type of tasks, once you had to perform any sort of (Even not-so) complicated decision making or logic it got really, really, ugly. Going to be hard to trace a program when you're trying to follow a little dot around all the "wires" you've got criss-crossed and entangled in your "program."

    On another note, This type of programming is *exactly* what Billco's vision of the future of computing is. That is, to take as much information (which ==power remember) *away* from the user as possible, and make them more *dependent* on Microsoft than they already are.

    As for the speech recognition thing. This has been Bill's little fantasy for quite a few years already, hasn't it? I think we've got a *loooong* way to go before that becomes what he's hoping it will.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:39AM (#8713590)
    Oddly, when people trumpet free software, yellow journalism comments like communist, anti-American, end-of-capitalism-as-we-know-it start coming from everyone.

    But when Bill Gates suggests that hardware should be free, why, this is a good thing!

    Hardware fabrication has a real multiplier effect in the economy: IC fabrication plants cost millions and provide work to the poeple who build them, run them, maintain them, etc; resistors, capacitors, connectors and PCBs all have entire industries associated with them that provide income for millions of people.

    Software, on the other hand, promotes no such multiplier. Once written, it can be copied countless times with very little supporting industry. It provides work to only a small group of programmers and one company, without the multipliers mentioned above for hardware.

    Why should software be prized so highly in our economy and hardware denigrated economically? Because Bill Gates says so?
  • Re:Visual design (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:41AM (#8713603) Homepage Journal
    That's the problem, apparently Bill has drunk Marketing's kool-aid and really believes that.

    Those of us that actually code knows it goes more like :

    and then finally, you get down to the level where you're dealing with quantum wave functions and wave guides.

    It's managing the levels of abstraction that's the real magic trick.

  • by shadowbearer ( 554144 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:43AM (#8713627) Homepage Journal
    and just like carpenters, there will be programmers who can put those modules together correctly and programmers who can't. Anyone who's ever fixed the mess made by clueless DIYer (as opposed to a clueful one) knows this.

  • Precisely. And, for example: given how long friggin HTML has been around - plus the simplicity of that markup "language" - and we still don't have perfect (or even good) WYSIWYG editors for it.

    How likely is it we'll get "visual editors" for complex systems (C/C++/et al., in combination with various other languages, frameworks, data formats/databases, etc)?

  • Re:Visual design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:46AM (#8713656) Homepage Journal
    Whoa here, buddy.

    Software, even software written in text, even OSS, is already visually designed. It always has been. Flow charts, diagrams, screenshot mockups -- shit, I've gotten specs that were nothing more than a drawing on a paper plate.

    The only difference is that Bill forsees getting rid of the intermediate step of writing code to represent the visual system. Which is not, inherently, a bad idea, as that's the step that introduces the most bugs. Some humans are great optimizers, but the average coder is not very good at it. Therefore, using visual tools to generate efficient, secure, bug-free code would be ideal. I use VS.NET and Eclipse and I have to admit: when I use the visual tools for constructing datasets, my code is far less buggy and no slower than if I'd written it myself. I continue to write it myself because I like to, and nobody's caught wind of the fact that half the bugs in my folder are due to this stubbornness.

    And personally, I don't know what the FUCK you're talkign about. Programs that look pretty but don't work can be written in any IDE. A skilled coder will take the best tools available and use them to great advantage. A shitty coder will take the best tools available and make something that doesn't work. It seems to me your only complaint is that if something doesn't work, it should LOOK like it doesn't work. And since there's no method in any toolkit I can think of to make an interface look trashy, it sounds to me you've just got sour grapes.

    (Oh, and please don't reply to this citing some irony you feel inmy associating Microsoft with "efficient, bug free code." That's an argument of a different color, and I'm kind of playing devil's advocate in that shade. I should point out that the .NET Framework is easily on par with Java's Framework when it started to impress me in these areas, only much faster and less stochastic, which leads me to believe that it was stubborn coding practices that caused MS' security gap in the first place.)
  • by Srin Tuar ( 147269 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:47AM (#8713664)

    If everyone was willing to settle for older or slower hardware, demand for it, and thus prices, would be higher. Did you ever stop to wonder why older or lower-end stuff is so cheap? The people buying the new stuff at much higher prices are essentially subsidizing it.

  • by ShaggyZet ( 74769 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:51AM (#8713705) Homepage
    Visual design is inevitable. The other poster talking about how OS and VM coders are niches is exactly right, but doesn't take it far enough. Look at HTML. People started out writing it by hand (1994 and notepad anyone?) and moved on to things like early versions of Netscape Composer and what was that other one, Hot Metal or something?. Those made the tags easier to remember and compose. Now what do people use? Dreamweaver, Front Page? Yeah, sure all /. readers still use vi or emacs (I use vi, myself) but what percentage of web pages are written without graphical tools these days?

    Then look at something like Visual Basic (sorry, VB.NET). It's interface creation is all graphical, only the logic is code. The next natural step is to make the logic drag and drop too. Some current day rules engines try to do this and fail. Look at the little "fx" insert function button in MS Excel, it guides you through creating logic. All of this will come together and allow anyone to create logic, the same way that anyone can create presentation today with HTML.

    And yes, it'll screw up sometimes. And yes, there will be really ugly (and wrong) logic in some applications either because the tools suck or because people don't know how to use them (or aren't capable of abstract thought, but that's another story). But this is the inevitable march of progress.

    Besides, you didn't really want to deal with every stupid business person changing their mind all the time about when a program should say Potato and when it should say Potatoe, did you? I know I'd rather write software that allows them to do it themselves. And the rest of you code monkeys can go back to working at Best Buy.

  • Re:I hope not (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArmorFiend ( 151674 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:54AM (#8713743) Homepage Journal
    Sorry, but you are 180 degrees wrong.

    It is this slacker approach that is responsible for all the crap software out there. Get it through your head: software engineering is compeletely different from writing a self-recursive factorial function demo.

    Academia likes to push Abstract Data Types, but when you force them to sit down and write any moderatly sized program in the language of their choice, (say, a game demo or desktop calculator), you'll find many of them totally at a loss on how to apply their ADTs or even structure their programs in a way that others can read. Usually this is accompanied by some lame-ass statement about "in a real program we'd do it this other way". Well what are people going to school FOR? To write non-real programs? I think not.

    Algorithms are easy - just read a book or search the web. Good software development on large projects is much harder.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:56AM (#8713766)
    Depends on how it is done. There are some well designed visual modeling & simulation development tools for electronics (Simulink, PSpice, etc.) and mechanical systems (finite element, etc.) These do a relatively good job of simulating "systems". Software processes are not that different from physical processes in electronics and mechanical system. Software rules (e.g., syntax) are analagous to physical laws.

    There are some caveats on this statement however. First, software systems have discrete, digital states rather than analog behavior. That makes them quite succeptible to error behavior in boundary cases. And the state space for software is extremely large. Universal use of components developed in either an object-oriented or functional way could divide this state space up into manageable components. But one issue that is often overlooked by methodology enthusiasts is that this only increases the size of the building blocks and decreases the number of blocks used for a particular size of project. It does not eliminiate the problem that bigger programs are made from a larger number of component parts. The complexity of a program grows as a function of the complexity of the underlying problem. You can change the function with different tools, but the relationship will still exist.
  • by gilesjuk ( 604902 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:00AM (#8713801)
    True, but then your printer is good for nothing without ink, your PC is good for nothing if it has no software. If the systems are designed such that you can't hack them to do anything else and there are laws (DMCA) that say you can't publish the results, then you're stuffed.

    If you don't manage to get them do other things then the comparison of a small piece of metal and plastic with a large pile of plastic, silicon etc.. is valid IMHO.
  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:03AM (#8713836)
    Posted anonymously as a test to see if anyone is paying attention or if this will just be rated a troll as /.'rs are like to do.

    So in other words, it's a troll.

  • Re:Visual design (Score:2, Insightful)

    by baelbouga ( 762673 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:05AM (#8713859) Homepage
    This is the way a lot of web pages are "designed". Graphic Designers use PhotoShop or the like to create the way the page should look. Then, they hand it over to Web Designers to get it to work the way is should work.

    It's kind of like a Politician saying we should have this great program and then somebody else has to find a way to pay for it.
  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:08AM (#8713907)
    Look at it this way: the 48K Apple II was introduced in the US at $1795. Now, a typical bottom-end cell phone has much more computing power. You could put the entire Apple II on a $20 FPGA, or make it an ASIC and the price would be $1 or less in quantity.

    I bought a 333MHZ Pentium II based PC in 1998. For software development and everything else I did, it was fine for the following five years. I finally upgraded to a 3GHz P4, just because it was cheaper than upgrading the OS and various parts individually. In my timings, this PC is roughly 15x faster than the old one, plus the video card is at least 10x faster than the one I bought in 2000. This is a lot of power, and it's the least I've ever spent on a PC.

    Or consider game consoles. A $150 game system is more powerful, in all ways except memory, than a computer from 5-6 years ago. Video-wise, they're much more powerful. Next generation consoles are going to outrun current desktops...for $200.

    The short version is that computers get more powerful, then they get cheap. At some point power ceases to matter, especially if you have a GPU or video compression chip to offload lots of work to. Imagine if a 2 or 3GHz chip could be made to run at 10 watts of power and cost $5. For a 65nm PowerPC, this is reasonable. What's needed is economy of scale. An alternate approach is that "low end" processors in cell phones and digital cameras get to where they're fast enough to usurp a desktop. Then put a video compression chip in there, or other custom hardware to the bulk of the work. At $20 for a complete system, that's a big deal.

    Or even consider alternate, custom CPUs. An x86 desktop CPU is expensive because it includes all sorts of junk, like MMX support and 16-bit mode and legacy instructions and SSE2 and all this other marginalized stuff. And still they're too general purpose. C++ doesn't matter any more. Well, it matters because it's "fast," but not because people really like it. C++ doesn't make you happy the way Haskell or Python or Smalltalk do. Take a minimal instruction set designed to support one of those languages, then implement a simulator for it, then an FPGA, then an ASIC. Keep it simple, keep it fast. You could easily have a 20MHz part pacing high-end desktop processors for most tasks. Again, combine this with an ASIC for doing heavy lifting like graphics and compression.
  • I don't think so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hak1du ( 761835 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:09AM (#8713920) Journal
    Gates is wrong. Hardware prices don't depend as much on technology but on what people are willing to pay. A PC costs $1000 because that's what people are willing to pay for it, and they happen to get as much hardware and software for that as they can.

    I'm sure Gates would like the entire $1000 to go to Microsoft, but that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen because Microsoft isn't going to produce $900 worth of software that is capable of running on whatever $100 buys you in hardware. That's not a problem with hardware design, it's a problem with the kind of software that Microsoft develops: big and resource intensive.

    On the other hand, you will probably be able to get a really cheap computer that runs Linux and runs it well. We are already beginning to see this with Mini-ITX and Nano-ITX systems: they run Linux so much better than Windows. For $200, you get a full desktop system capable of pretty much everything that a home user needs.

    What really helps Linux is that it doesn't have to push an agenda or "innovate" constantly. If a 1995 word processor written in C runs fine on $1000 1995 hardware, it will run really well on a $100 2005 Mini-ITX system, with a few `bug fixes and feature enhancements. Microsoft's new .NET-based office suite using COM, DCOM, SOAP, DHTML, and whatnot, on the other hand, won't. But Microsoft has to keep changing things in order to get people to buy and pay them more money.
  • experience (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bizzarobot ( 442358 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:10AM (#8713929) Homepage
    I don't think the hardware will be free and the software will be purchased, or the other way around. I think the new model will be the overall product and experience brought to the user by that product. If the computer is a tool, then both the hardware and software are equally important (or irrelevant). Companies will most likely start using open technologies and standard hardware as a base, then innovate, tweak, and specialize into both of these areas to create a total, holistically-engineered product.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:15AM (#8713979) Journal

    Visual design is nice and all, but I've never seen a visual design engine that was capable enough to replace an actual coder.

    It's the difference between an Access database and a php/mysql (or similar) database. You can do a lot of things in Access, you can fiddle with the wizards, and stick cute little things together, etc, but, in the end, you need a VB programmer to come in and write code to make it do the things that you need it to do, but which the designers decided not to implement. And when you're writing that code, Access is fighting you because it isn't designed to be easily extendible.

    Whereas php/mysql may not be tinker-toy-esque, but you can truly customize it, right down to the last detail, without trying to work around a clunky existing framework.

    I wouldn't be surprised if visual designers became more popular, but I can't imagine them ever replacing a skilled programmer. Then, as now, visual designers will be used by semi-skilled end users that need little more than basic functionality.
  • Visual Programming (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fizze ( 610734 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:15AM (#8713990)
    In terms of visual programming, I used to work a lot with LabView and Mentor's VHDL Design Suite.

    Both are very graphically contained, but what you design is yet the dataflow, and the methods.
    Be it a top-down, or a bottom-up process, you have to think of how to implement methods and actual data processing.
    Yet, I think that the amount of work that is put in projects, especially bigger ones, is bigger in the design-methology-dataflow part (which can be graphical), than in the actual coding work.
    Moreover, teamwork is much easier if the code design (whatever it be) is graphical.

    Think of the many many possobilities you have to achieve a task in C, and its very hard for even a team-member to read and understand your code at once, be it well documented as is, yet it is a LOT easier to read graphics.
  • by zapp ( 201236 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:17AM (#8714002)
    HTML is hard to make a visual designer for because it's so non standardized, and very very sloppy.

    Ever build an SQL query with Access? Pretty simple if you ask me. How about an excel spreadsheet formula?

    Ever use a tool like Together, Rational Rose, etc to build a UML class diagram and have it generate the skeletal source code (class definitions, method names, variable declarations, etc)

    Look up Jackson Structured Programming (JSP), it's not popular here in the US, but it's a way to visually design the flow of a method and have your editor spit out code in any one of many languages.

    Also, expecting to get such an editor for C/C++ is silly. Not only will the tools evolve, but also the languages.

    And on general principle, the doubters usually turn out to be wrong. We made it to the moon, we have a computer in every house, etc.
  • by crovira ( 10242 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:18AM (#8714012) Homepage
    You don't write apps "from the screen in" because that's wrong from the get go.

    You design apps from the objects and relationships (not to mention security considerations mean that an individual may not be entitled to see all of them) out.

    Presentation occutrs in whatever language/ script/ medium is available.

    Interaction and therefore selection of triggers to object events, depends on what the individual is allowed to do.

    Gates will go the way of Smalltalk and Java PARTs and other visual programming toys.

    He hasn't got a fucking clue how the world works. I pity him.
  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:19AM (#8714023) Homepage Journal
    There was a very interesting study done about great scientists that ties in here nicely. Essentially, the finding was that they didn't produce better stuff in total, they mostly produced more stuff (papers, articles, research reports, etc.) - thus raising their statistical chances of hitting gold.

    I fear Gates understands that method. If you make lots of predictions, chances are some of them will be right. The general public usually remembers your correct predictions, not your failures. Just look at how many journalists consider Gates a visionary.
  • by dave_mcmillen ( 250780 ) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:21AM (#8714044)
    I'm in the computer chair business, and I predict that computer hardware and software will *both* be free, and the only charge will be for the chairs.
  • Free? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdot@nexusu[ ]rg ['k.o' in gap]> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:23AM (#8714060) Homepage
    We'll think of the hardware as being almost free because Bill thinks the software will be that much more expensive? :)
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The_K4 ( 627653 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:26AM (#8714086)
    I have windows XP on my work system and explorer crashs at least once a week, it usually recovers without a reboot but now all the icons in the system tray are missng and I have a ton of orphaned processes and some of my programs *cough*word*cough* can't aceess the file system to save. Now before you go off saying "it's hardware" this same computer ran 2K for 8 months perfectly. Now I know many people who use XP just fine, but I also know many people who have problems. There is not "perfect os for everyone", everyone needs to use what works best for them.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pomakis ( 323200 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:26AM (#8714090) Homepage
    The only difference is that Bill forsees getting rid of the intermediate step of writing code to represent the visual system. Which is not, inherently, a bad idea, as that's the step that introduces the most bugs.

    Yeah, but that happens to also be the step that introduces the details of the logic! These details can't be magically derived. They must be crafted by a programmer. If that involves drawing lots of highly detailed pictures within pictures at the "design" level, then fine, but it wouldn't make anything less complex or less bug-ridden. For the most part, the complexity of programming is inherent. Abstraction and the use of building-block libraries help tremendously, of course, but these techniques work just as well in the written-programming-language world as they do in the design-by-drawing-pictures world.

  • of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Archalien ( 197877 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:26AM (#8714094)
    Of course, he's right.

    Hardware will have to be free to justify the fact that the DRM running the hardware will make sure you won't be free to use the machine how you want to use it.

    He's basically just outlining a new marketing plan to get the masses to stomach Trusted Computing.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:27AM (#8714104) Homepage
    In hardware design, the trend in the past 20 years has been just the opposite, going from large blueprints of gate and circuits, to a Hardware Description Language [] (HDL, like Verilog or VHLD) which is very similar to a programming language like C or Pascal!

    Methinks the emperor has simply announced he wants a change of fashion, and all the trendy loyal subjects in the kingdom have to change their style to fit in.
  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:27AM (#8714109)
    And on general principle, the doubters usually turn out to be wrong. We made it to the moon, we have a computer in every house, etc.

    Oh, and the marketeers tend to be right? Sorry, but Bill Gates is not known for being a technology visionary.

  • Re:Visual design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:28AM (#8714121) Journal
    Even with Java you have problems with Visual Design.

    Here's an example I hit the other day... I was using a linked list to store a set of objects. I was using the "LinkedList()" class that is part of Java. Well, my program was pretty memory intensive, and the list wasn't doing what I needed it to, so I ended up having to re-implement a LinkedList to streamline my code and to get rid of 4 funtions I didn't need and add the 1 that I did.

    With a visual editor I might have clicked on the "Data structure button" and then chosen something that had a similar functionality to a linked list...But how the hell could I have optimized it? Seems like you'd just end up with tons of big bloated Objects with tons of features added to make them fit every concievable need, which would then sit in memory eating of resources and slowing everything down.
  • by borgheron ( 172546 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:32AM (#8714166) Homepage Journal
    Gates and Microsoft will be left behind by the current paradigm shift.

    This shift has very little to do with Open Source or Free Software, although they are convenient mediums for it. The shift is towards open standards. By making a piece of software Open Source/Free Software, you expose its protocols to the world.

    This is what customers want. They don't want lock-in, they don't want lack of interoperability. They want their machines to play together without problems.

  • No, this is not true. Cheap electronics are not a welfare program. I can buy an $8 watch or a $20 PDA because it's using standard circuitry and mass-produced with cheap Malaysian labor. In fact, if demand for cheap electronics was higher, competition would eventually drive the prices even lower. If everyone was willing to settle for 1997 computer technology, then slow computers with low res monitors and ancient OSs would be selling at Wal-Mart for $99. What drives the price up for new technology is R&D, plus the up-front capital expense of building new plants to build the new stuff. Once all that's been done, the price drops down, down, down, and yesterday's technology gets cheaper and cheaper.
  • by sdcharle ( 631718 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:53AM (#8714455) Journal
    They'd better hurry up with that one, thanks to keyboards and such I know my handwriting skills are deteriorating beyond recognition even by humans with decent eyesight.
  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:56AM (#8714488) Homepage
    Even if software development becomes putting lego blocks together, it's not going to make specifying algorithms, keeping track of data structures and debugging any easier. Billy should know better.

    Yeah, totally visual program design is unlikely to happen for the same reason that great novels aren't written using only pictures. At some point you have to design complex data relationships, and that's going to have to be done in an algebraic fashion. Ol' Bill is probably envisioning a time when there'll be pre-built libraries for all your algorithmic needs, but that won't make software development "visual", it'll just split the job field into two parts: visual object assemblers (monkeys), and library builders (real programmers). What makes the "visula development" notion even sillier is that for complex projects you'll need custom-built libraries for very specific, complex functions, and those will have to be written by somebody.

    The idea of "totally visual development" is ignorant. We developed complex written (human) languages for a reason: cave paintings only carry so much info. Computer languages are no different.

  • Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danharan ( 714822 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:02PM (#8714550) Journal
    Ok, so now Billy G. has caught up to what my 80's mentors were saying. Back then they also thought that new computers had entirely too much memory and free disk space. Oops.

    On the whole, they were right: hardware prices have fallen dramatically, and software now routinely costs more than the hardware that runs it.

    What did they get wrong? Bloatware kept increasing hardware requirements, and a lot of software became free. I like the idea of nearly free computers with all the basic applications available for free: browser, mail, office suite and solitaire.

    But what of specialized software? F/OSS is great, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that companies will still need to pay programmers for custom work. And they will pay programmers far more than they spend on hardware, as long as our software helps them make more money.

    Even a small business can spend more on a couple web applications than they do on hardware- it is certainly true of all my customers.

    As for hardware, there is one factor that will keep me spending more money even though I might have enough with last year's technology. I want screens with high resolution, as easy on the eyes as paper; computers that are light and have very long battery life. Once we achieve a computer that has those features, manufacturers might find something else that will keep us buying expensive boxes/pda/wearables, or prices will go down.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:03PM (#8714558)
    Gates is right. Programming in the future will be visual. When he says this, though, he's just mimicing others, including myself, who have been maintaining this for, well, more than 20 years.

    I once engaged Michael Tiemann, CTO of Red Hat and doer of many of GNU things, [] on the subject of visual programming and he refused to even concede that it is possible.

    Well, to Michael and all of you who scoff, I say first: "You will not be among those who make it possible or who will benefit from it"

    We have begun to create, to learn to manipulate and to use as building blocks of new formal symbolic systems (languages), the graphic equivalents of phonemes and morphemes, words, syntax and grammar. If we can build civilizations on sounds, then we can build extensions to civilizations and things as yet undreamed with graphic symbols.

    You all can scoff, laugh, snort milk out your nose and, like Tiemann, bury your vision in the deserved pride in your own accomplishments, but that won't stop the development of new languages based upon graphics. And I don't mean just new programming languages. I mean languages.

    This will be done by children who will be unaware of your own self-imposed mental handicaps and defeatest attitudes, children who scoff at your scoffing, who have disdain for your disdain. Your world of text programming languages is passing, and will one day be a mere footnote.

    It doesn't matter if you understand this or not, if you like it or not, if you do it or not.
  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:04PM (#8714567)
    I think Bill needs to go take a look around him a little, especially on eBay, where hardware costs "next to nothing" now!

    You can pick up a Pentium II PC for a few dollars/pounds/euros. Put in 256MB of memory and it'll run Windows 9x or 2000 with an office package perfectly happily... I've got several friends and relatives who have benefitted from a lot of my old hardware, have PCs now with 300-500 Mhz CPUs that they're perfectly happy with and I've done my bit for the environment also by recycling old hardware.

    I believe Mr Gates is under the illusion that because he locks his user base into his software now, that in 10 years time people will still be willing to part with hard earned cash for software which, let's face it, is hardly innovative anymore because all of the features anyone can think of implementing have just about been implemented.

    If anything software innovation is becoming stale (though who cares because "if it ain't broke, don't fix it") and it's in the realms of hardware, particularly miniaturisation that the innovation is taking place currently.

    I hate to dampen Bill Gates' fireworks but if Linux makes as much an advance over the next 10 years as it has done over the last 10 years, then I think he'll have a few other things on his mind in a decade than just pondering the price of hardware...

  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:16PM (#8714704)
    I have programmed mediums to large size systems using LabView, graphical programming language designed for non-CS engineer types to implement Test and Measurement Systems (think automating rackmounted supplies, meters for QA etc). So I thought I'd share my experience with ya'll. For perspective, most the work I had done before was in C or C++, with various toolkits.

    The basic unit of code in LabView is called a VI (Virtual Instrament - think function). When creating a VI you have two parts - the Front Panel (interface) and the Block Diagram (implementation). On the front panel you create a bunch of widgets which serve as the input and output to the VI. Each control has it's own data type for example numeric controls, and sliders are int or float, buttons, swithes and LED's are binary, text feilds are string, pulldowns are enum, etc. You have an array controls and cluster (think struct) controls which can contain other controls. You also have a few highlevel controls like a graph for the waveform type, and some abstract types for standard error handling, and references for open instrement objects, ActiveX objects etc. You should also draw an icon for the VI, which will be it's representation when being called from other VIs. So basically every function you write automatically has a user interface, which doubles as it's signature declaration. This comes in handy when doing black box testing.

    Now in the Block Diagram these controls show up as input and output terminals, which you wire to other things. For example you can call other VIs, by wiring data to the inputs on the left of the VI icon and the outputs on the right hand side. The types on both ends of the wires must match and the wires are drawn with different colors to indicate their type (derived from whatever their input is - you don't have to explicitly specify wire type).There are no variables (well there are globals, but you don't use them much) data just flows from the input terminals to the output terminals, with the runtime system executing whatever happens to be in the way and taking care of memory management.

    You have all the standard flow control constructs. A switch statement is a box with a special terminal that you wire for the conditional, and then a pull down box at the top, that lets you enumerate and switch between all the different cases. You can wire just about any type into the conditional terminal. The simplest example would have a boolean input wire and only one case - true - ie an if statement. You have foreach loops which iterate through all the elements of an array you wire in, and while loops (technically a do-while) which is another box with an internal terminal for the conditional. And so on.

    One of the intersting things about this language is that because execution order is determined by data flow, not program text, it is inherently parallel. If you draw two loops on the same diagram, and one isn't dependent on the other for data, then they will operate concurrently.

    Okay enough explaining the interesting parts of the language, onto the thrashing. Do not believe what NI (the makers of LabView) tell you about increased productivity. It is true that you save some time due to the fact that this is a high level language, and comes with a nice set of libararies. However, this is offset by the fact that it takes so much longer to draw code then it does to type it. A picture may be worth a thousand words but an icon is worth exactly one. It only takes slighly to wire up a function, or draw a loop than it does to type it. But where the really killer comes in is you now have the added complexity of having to think about how to layout all these elements, and predict how much space you will need for them. If you predict wrong you will be constantly resizing boxes and rerouting wires. As you can imagine refactoring is a huge pain, so you better have a perfect design when you start, and we all know that we never have bugs in the design, right? And we never want to modify our program to do things in the
  • by ( 551216 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:16PM (#8714720) Homepage
    Gates is talking the same kind of BS that we've been hearing from 'visionary' "scientists" for around three decades now, and exactly what makes life hard for me and colleagues that try to get computers to do something useful (or fun) with natural language.

    Gates and other marketing experts are managing expectations in the wrong direction. They promise something that they cannot realize. What common people understand when Gates talks about "real speech recognition" is a computer that will analyze your input in a noisy environment (where it matters most: out on the street!), contextualize it with what you've said before and with what's on the screen and with all the things that we call 'common sense', and then react accordingly.

    A lot of these things are possible in very limited, well-modelled domains. But not in applications for 'real users' that deal with a variety of information. And it won't be there in ten years. There are many hard problems to solve, both in defining what is actually linguistically the case or how to learn it from a corpus, and how to implement processes that happen in parallel in our brains on sequential machines.

    It doesn't help if Gates and co promise the world and hope that their scientists will deliver.
  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Armchair Dissident ( 557503 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:18PM (#8714731) Homepage

    Software Has A Design Cost

    So does hardware. And it has a higher replication cost.

    Each piece of hardware has to be designed. The processor, the motherboard, the RAM, the networking cards, the graphics cards, the hard drive controllers - the hard drives. All these things have a high research and development cost as well as a high replication cost.

    Software just has a high design cost. I write proprietary software, and I expect to get paid for it. But that doesn't suddenly mean that the hardware I write the software on doesn't have a design cost, or doesn't have a high replication cost.

    Hell, my value to my employer - and therefore my contribution to the cost of their software - is an entirely arbitrary value set by current labour rates. The cost of pressing a microprocessor onto silicon, however, is dictated by the labour cost of the design teams + the cost of the silicon + the cost of the plant etc. etc.

    Or are you contending that hardware designers are somehow worth less than software designers?

  • by rjamestaylor ( 117847 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:19PM (#8714745) Journal
    Gates is simply trying to justify the high cost of Windows in an age of $299 computers. This has been one proof of the detrimental effect of MS' monopoly power on the computer market -- that is, if not for MSFT's monopoly Windows would cost $29, not $299 (or whatever). So, to counter this obvious observation he has to argue that hardware, which cannot be electronically "copied" infinitely but must be manufactured in each iteration, is headed towards "zero" and software, which once written can be duplicated and distributed with almost no added expense, is stable in terms of price.

    Also worth noting MS, a software company, has been trying to sell its XBox for what many believe is less than the cost of manufacturing in order to boost sales of its software games. He's probably also trying to deflect investor/analyst criticism for lowering the retail price of the XBox to $150.

    Bill has so little credibility its amazing MSFT lets him talk in public.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The_K4 ( 627653 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:32PM (#8714919)
    Actually the IT guys did reformat the drive and put on a fresh image. I don't know what the problem is, I prefer 2K over XP because of these issues.
  • Excellent Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PetoskeyGuy ( 648788 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:39PM (#8715013)
    Why would someone pay that much when they didn't have to? Maybe because they will have no choice. Secure Computing DRM, etc means you wouldn't want to let some insecure software run on your hardware. DCMA could do something like copy right the bootloader or BIOS so you have to get a license to work with it.

    You have to do it slowly though, so people don't notice your slipping the reigns on. A little bit at a time, let them get used to it, then do the next part.

    Printers have started down this path. Imagine if computers do too. Damn, my PC has a Virus... well I might as well just get a new one - cheaper then buying AV software.
  • by kvigor ( 66615 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:49PM (#8715145)
    Your world of text programming languages is passing, and will one day be a mere footnote.

    Yes! Death to text! If you need proof that communication can be more efficiently done in a visual medium, you need look no further than this very web site where we converse exclusively using...

    Oh. Never mind. Move along, nothing to see here.
  • by anomalous cohort ( 704239 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:53PM (#8715199) Homepage Journal

    There are already some visual programming IDE's that are supposed to work at this gross chunked (fit them together like pipes) component level. I've noticed that they cluster around the B2B integration tool space.

    Here are some examples. M$FT uses their acquired Visio engine in their biztalk server to model dataflow []. BEA Systems does something very similar in their Weblogic Workshop IDE. Go to page 8 in this white paper [] of theirs.

    Is this true programming? IMHO, its as much programming as writing a shell script.

  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:55PM (#8715216)
    Yeah, sure all /. readers still use vi or emacs (I use vi, myself) but what percentage of web pages are written without graphical tools these days?

    I'm sure most of the amateur web sites out there use Dreamweaver, et al. to generate their HTML, and under heavy load it shows.

    I work for a professional web shop (about 30 million page views a day across all the sites we've made) and every line of HTML code here is written by hand. It's currently the only way to guarantee an efficient and responsive product.
  • by SquareOfS ( 578820 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:58PM (#8715255)
    AC wrote:
    We have begun to create, to learn to manipulate and to use as building blocks of new formal symbolic systems (languages), the graphic equivalents of phonemes and morphemes, words, syntax and grammar. If we can build civilizations on sounds, then we can build extensions to civilizations and things as yet undreamed with graphic symbols.

    Text . . . the graphic equivalent of phonemes and morphemes, words, syntax, and grammar. Maybe I should try to sell somebody on this "text" revolution.

  • Re:Visual design (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GileadGreene ( 539584 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @01:02PM (#8715315) Homepage
    If that involves drawing lots of highly detailed pictures within pictures at the "design" level, then fine, but it wouldn't make anything less complex or less bug-ridden.

    In fact, it's likely to just make things more confusing. There's a reason that mathematicians don't do geometric proofs so much anymore - symbolic manipulation is more clear, more general, and more compact. It's the same reason that hardware designers use things like VHDL now.

    Many people seem to think that a "graphical language" makes things easier for lay-people to understand. And that's true at the very highest levels of abstraction. But when you get down to the details a graphical language must have the same expressiveness as an equivalent symbolic language. That means that it will almost inevitably have the same level of complexity as the symbolic language, and be equally impenetrable to lay-people. One only has to look at the newest versions of UML to see this effect in action.

    Bottom line: graphics are great at a high level of abstraction, and as documentation to aid understanding of a symblic expression, but for implementing complex systems symbolic languages are much better.

  • by smootc-m ( 730115 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @01:21PM (#8715612) Homepage
    The real trend line Mr. Gates missed is the trend towards computing platforms being simply service delivery vehicles. Savvy business people are already moving to this model.

    This is a difficult model for Microsoft to see, since it cuts at the heart of their business model which is based on the IP of their software. Some within MS do get it, but it is hard to turn a big ship.

    The real challenge for the FOSS community is to recognize that in order to avoid vendor lockin there must be standard interface protocols for the evolving service delivery models. For example if the US or other governments (or large enterprises for that matter) would adopt OASIS as a common document storage standard, then vendor lockin for document management can be avoided.

    The growth and adoption of the Internet is a good analogy in this regard. The Internet did not fragment as some predicted because interoperability was a key driver for the consumers of Internet services.

    In the same way the adoption of key standards further up the protocol stack will be a brake to single vendor lockin. It will take the active participation of user to prevent the natural tendencies of software houses to lock customers into their products. What we as users should be demanding is service interoperability.

    Just as I can use my Nokia cellphone to talk to someone using a Motorola cell phone, I should not be required to use MS Word in order to send a document to someone who happens to use MS Word.

    Microsoft wants the world to be a monoculture where they control the software gene pool. This is very dangerous to the health of the software industry as a whole.
  • by wheatking ( 608436 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @01:32PM (#8715764)
    Tis interesting that the software prices seem to be caught in a bubble. OS and application prices as a fraction of the hardware they run on are a far higher percentage today than 10 years ago. Now, one can argue that Moore's law (to the first order) and associated process/yield improvements have given us commodity hardware while the mongo-stateful nature of software inherently resists that kind of 'cost' reduction.

    However, if the last fifteen years of microsoft dominance were a business phenomenon but a technological aberration, software prices may just be in a real overhang due to correct in the next few years. There has to be some sort of economic entropic balance between hardware machines and the software that runs on them -- perhaps modded by the productivity gained. If this pseudo-natural system is not in balance, it will (eventually) correct itself. -wheatking and pretty things.

  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:21PM (#8716553)
    Yet, hardware has gone down in price from where it was in the mid 80's while software has gone up.

    And it will continue to do so as long as hardware is a commodity market, and software is a monopoly.

    Office XP isn't worth $300, and the features added from the last version are certainly not worth as much as they charge for an upgrade. I do not know of a single feature that has been added since Office 97 that I have needed. In fact I would argue that for most institutions, they loose money on every upgrade, not only from cost of purchase, but also from deployment and temperary loss of productivity due to the changes. Why do they upgrade then? Because they would loose even more money if they were not compatible with the rest of the world.
  • by IncohereD ( 513627 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:31PM (#8716667) Homepage
    I think that implementing software doesn't take as much time as designing it and the design phase is independant of the implementation language. Therefor total design time is hardly affected by the chosen language unless you design on the fly (design while you type code), which is a bad thing in my opinion anyways.

    So you ALWAYS design your ENTIRE PROGRAM before you start coding? You obviously haven't worked on any sort of real project, with intermediate deadlines, changing requirements, extensibility requirements, etc., etc.

    If you're trying to do a 2 year project and after the first 1.5 years you still have no code, and therefore nothing even resembling a prototype, because you're still designing, don't think you're going to get funded.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trolling4Dollars ( 627073 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:50PM (#8716926) Journal
    First off... I'm a hardcore Linux guy. I only have one Windows box at home and that's because I have some professional hardware that doesn't yet have good support under Linux (Echo Layla audio interface. Yes there is an ALSA driver but I have yet to get it to work.). With that out of the way, I have to bring up a point that I've tried to make before. Windows has improved over time, and from my own experience with it both at work and at home I think they got a lot of things right. I've also noticed a lot of *nix-isms in it that have been hidden behind GUIs and friendly names. I won't get into that here though. My main point is this...

    Starting around the time of Windows NT4, Windows got reasonably stable by itself. Windows 2000 took it a good deal further and there was less wrong with the OS than ever before (excluding security issues). Windows XP and 2003 Server have certainly raised the bar quite a bit. So why do we get all these stories about the OS "crashing" all the time? I'll tell you why:

    1. Poorly written/Buggy application or server software (Office Suites, Web Servers, Mail Servers, etc...)
    2. Misconfigured application or server software
    3. Misconfigured OS settings by people who don't really know what they are doing despite their certs
    4. Underpowered hardware (overclocked CPUs or just plain slow/older machines, not enough RAM, etc..)
    5. Inappropriate hardware (Using a Gateway brand desktop PC as a Domain Controller) non-ECC RAM, etc..
    6. Malfunctioniing hardware (bad RAM, MB, CPU, cooling problems, etc...)

    In many instances, the people responsible for these machines either don't know HOW to fix the problem, or CAN'T (proprietary software) until their vendor puts out a fix. These people may not know how to figure out where the problems is. Is it hardware? Is it software? Where in the chain does it exists? If anything, most tech's troubleshooting skills are pretty poor. But the ever present pressures from clueless suits to "make it work!" lead to workarounds or... the ubiquitous scheduled nightly reboot. This is NOT the fault of the OS. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Windows is a reliable OS compared to other OSes. I'm saying it's more likely that the applications and services that people are running on their machines are more likely to be the cause of crashes or forcing the nightly reboot. Windows has plenty of issues at the server and the desktop that ARE Micro$oft's fault. But seriously people... put the blame where it belongs the other 50% of the time.
  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:53PM (#8716967) Homepage
    Sure, you can visually link a few tools together, piping output from one into another, and you can click a few boxes and generate a basic SQL query. Wow.

    That's great for hello-world level tasks, like calculating the fibonacci series, or defining a data model. Sure, you could essentially write a 'Notepad' equivalent with twenty clicks because it's mainly one big text-entry dialog with a file and edit menu, all of which use standard functions and know how to interact with the text dialog.

    Now write the grammar-checker. Or, write a program that generates a 3d-model from a list of surface descriptions in XML format. Write a 'bot' that navigates through the 3d-world described while considering tactical and strategic concerns.

    At some point all of the trivial clickable stuff is done and you need to do the heavy lifting - things for which no standard dialogs are written. And you always reach this point, if you try to go at all off the beaten path (you know, innovate). For the bot example you could 'click and drag' some inputs to customize an already-written bot AI if it was exposed as an API, but you couldn't make it do anything truly new.

    And your falacy in assuming we (the doubters) will be proven wrong is that there's a difference between doubting we'll ever reach the moon and doubting that we'll reach it with method X. I don't doubt that programming simple things will become easier, I already see this in fact. I merely doubt that it'll happen in a drag-and-drop interface and that this data modelling will ever be on the cutting edge.

    It'll come along and handle all the trivial stuff, like letting users script application usage, or define 'macros' in programs like Photoshop where you drag the output of a filter onto another filter, into a loop of filter and sharpen till a certain point, to a resize function, etc.

    We'll get to the moon, but your hot-air balloons won't be how - not that we won't have hot-air balloons, but it's painfully obvious to someone in the aerospace field that hot-air balloons are of limited use in travel between planetary bodies (though inflatable balloons did function well as a landing mechanism), much like clickable interfaces might be used as part of many systems, but not as the core.
  • Some good points (but "Access"? No need for profanity, Sir - and if that's the cost to create databases visually, I win! ;) ). I do believe there will be (and that there already exist) domains where visual design/'programming' works quite well.

    The HTML example wasn't meant as a literal one, or that it follows that every visual design approach is inherently broken. A clearer example might have been the command line (the *n*x one) - decades old and non pareil for quite a lot of stuff, regardfless of the billions spent in GUI development. It's even coming back (OSX, Windows).

    Also, expecting to get such an editor for C/C++ is silly. Not only will the tools evolve, but also the languages.

    Of course. Languages evolve, as do all things. The entire software/hardware ecology evolves - that's kind of my point too. Evolution also means that what we can (or want to) achieve with programming will evolve. And that we never can take 'everything' into account. Moving targets, the lot of them. Perhaps the frameworks/systems needed to visually create tomorrow's applications will handle all the special cases, and make visual creation of "everything" faster, more powerful/flexible, etc. I'm a doubter ;) (and have been wrong before).

    Microsoft might have the magic bullet, with their gargantuan .NET framework, managed code etc. VisualEverything *shudder* might become feasible - we'll see, nay, visualize ;).

  • Re:Visual design (Score:2, Insightful)

    by N1KO ( 13435 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @04:07PM (#8717877)
    I run really buggy alpha programs on linux all the time and the system doesn't crash. The worst that has happened is XFree crashing but it only takes a few seconds to load up again compared to the reboot time for windows.

    There should be no reason for a program like aim to make your system reboot from buggy dlls. Btw, replacing the BSOD with just rebooting the computer doesn't fix the problem.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @04:55PM (#8718446)
    Your comment is well thought out and equally well stated. But your premise reguarding application software is faulty, an OS should NOT crash due to the applications running on top. If the application is at fault, stopping and re-starting the application should be all that is necessary, not rebooting the entire system.
  • by silkySlim ( 565600 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @05:19PM (#8718702) Homepage
    I think your assumptions about the poster are ignorant and rude. GOOD Code monkeys usually ship products on time. BAD self-proclaimed "Engineers" do a lot of hand waving and constantly gripe about how things should be done instead of doing anything. Unfortunately, executives and non-technical folk are most easily impressed by the "engineer".

    Don't get me wrong. Design is important. To a degree. You have to establish general architecture, boundaries and concepts. But at a certain level of detail, you're making assumptions that you shouldn't waste your time with.

    Forget about "poorly defined requirements". What about well defined constantly changing ones? Big Design Up Front makes a gamble that the project won't evolve or change shape during development. The odds are worse than a lottery ticket in Hong Kong.

    Common sense, motivation, self-discipline, communication, and, most importantly, hard work will ship a project far more on target than reams of design docs and meetings. I'll take 5 good code monkeys over your 10 engineers any day. bee-otch.

  • Re:Visual design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by teval ( 683486 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @06:20PM (#8719394)
    1. Poorly written/Buggy application or server software (Office Suites, Web Servers, Mail Servers, etc...)

    A faulty application should not bring down your OS. It is the OS' fault if it dies. Even if it's written badly.. or if it's misconfigured (2).

    Maybe #3 has some merit.. bad OS settings, but what settings can you set up in Windows that would crash it?

    4. Underpowered hardware (overclocked CPUs or just plain slow/older machines, not enough RAM, etc..)

    Even if it's slow, that isn't an excuse for it crashing.

    5. Inappropriate hardware (Using a Gateway brand desktop PC as a Domain Controller) non-ECC RAM, etc..

    The first example is ridiculous, it should not fail just because it's under too much stress.

    If my OS dies because of a program that I ran as a normal user or a MS driver I just installed (You'd be surprised.. or.. maybe you wouldn't be?) it's the OS's fault.

    Please let this be an end to the: "[Outlook/Apache/other server/other program/other game] locked my computer.. it's no Windows' fault" It is, nothing short of loading a junk driver that's malicious (and you do need admin for that I beleive) or.. an error in the OS should crash it ( barring hardware and with sane settings *read, sane, not optimum.. sane*)

    As a sidenote, I use Linux at home, I use Windows XP at school and I repair all sorts of Windows computers. The most damage I've ever seen software and hardware wise has been by techsupport people (A+, et al. certified support)
  • Re:Yeah, right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @07:05PM (#8719943) Homepage
    You're doing it wrong.

    Solution: have two dish washing robots.

    One has a sign labeled "Clean", the other "Dirty.

    Take dishes out of the Clean robot. Use. Then place into the Dirty robot. Once all dishes transfered, then activate the Dirty one, and switch the signs.
  • Re:Visual design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ( 528791 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @08:15PM (#8720625) Homepage
    You're missing the point like almost everyone else on slashdot. We've working on a project that does what Bill Gates is talking about. Most programming is business logic think SAP, Databases, Macros, etc.

    Most of this programming is done in-house and is never released. This kind of program is just linking smaller programs together, routing information through the right channels, politics etc. Slowly most of this is going visual. You have programmers that make modules by hand but as time goes on more and more of these modules will be pre-made and then you just link them together in the correct order.

    People will still need someone to make the modules but if Microsoft or your ISV provides them you don't know and don't care.

    For most of use this seems crazy but over the next 10 years software will become more regulated. Where I'm working we have 3 ISO standards and 3 other standards that we've got to comply with. Basically they mean we have to validate out software and then validate any changes. Since validation is a lot of work we try to buy software, modules that have already been validated (No opensource!) so we don't have to.

    Currently we only have to do this with stuff that deals with production. So normal software isn't affected only the software that runs our company.

    Anyway only time will tell.
  • by Arkaein ( 264614 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @08:37PM (#8720796) Homepage
    but clearly Microsoft is betting on the trend of higher levels of abstraction become ever more important in the future of computing. Let's look at a brief history of computer programming.

    In th beginning programs were most assembly/machine code. No abstraction. Ultimate flexibility and power to control the system, very little help in doing mundane or repetetive coding tasks.

    Then came the early higher level languages. Whether procedural or functionally based (or some other paradigm), these gave programmers powerful tools to create more complex programs with only marginal loss in flexibility and power. Later methods such as OOP seekd to improve the levels of abstraction.

    More recently, "scripting" languages have started to come into being as able to prototype and in some cases fully develop complete applications. Python and Perl, have less pure control and usually lower performance than languages like C or Fortran, but are much faster to develop in and are usually much easier to debug due to less code needed to solve the same problems.

    The question is: what is the next level? Some day I think we'll get to have Star Trek like interfaces to our computers. Ask a question in natural language, which would then presumably be processed into an Ultra-High Level language description the computer can process directly. Obviously this is way off in the future, but I think that the trend is clear: as computers get more powerful we will use ever increasingly high level interfaces to get tasks done, relying on processing power to make up for less efficient algorith representations and a rich set of existing APIs to solve the majority of the problems that any application has to solve.

    Microsoft thinks that the next level is a visual development environment. I think this is probably wrong, visual layout is inherently difficult and constraining, source code divided into distinct modules is not limited by spatial dimensions an facilitates searches and queries much more readily.

    I think that the Open Source community is currently and a much better route, though through evolutionary rather than revolutionary means. Open source languages like Python (and probably Ruby, which I do not know but a lot of people seem to like) are very high level, easy to learn, and expose a huge number of APIs coded in higher performance languages like C. These APIs solve most of the common problems, and HLLs bring them together to form applictions. When more power or flexibility is neededdevelopers can drop into the lower level languages and develop their own modules which are linked into the HLL. If necessary, this can be done all the way down to the bare metal. A Python application could use C code for certain computationally intensive sections, which may in turn use assembly to take advantage of special instructions on the target architecture.

    An even higher level language could be built that uses Python as a lower language when necessary, whihc in turn could use C, etc. The trick is developing a language that makes a significant proportion of tasks significantly easier than Python, or a language like. This will be done I feel, though it may require even richer and more powerful APIs than are currently available.

    This progression to increasingly high level textual descriptions certainly meshes better with the Start Trek goal, and does not impose any of the restrictions of a visual environment upon the developer at any stage along the way. it will be interesting to see which method is more successful in the future.
  • Re:Please Bill.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nathanh ( 1214 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:20PM (#8721826) Homepage
    The problem every ignorant OSS-ONLY kid and zealot tends to forget, Software Has A Design Cost.

    It's only a problem for dolts like you who can't understand that OSS does NOT mean zero cost. It means source code and the ability to create derivative works[1].

    I would pay _MORE_ for those rights.

    [1] Full definition of OSS at

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.