Convention, configuration and metaprogramming

January 24, 2007

Regu– whose IBM Yahoo Omnifind search review I posted earlier has a very interesting byte about Conventions over Configuration

He believes that with increasing commoditization of IT – cost, productivity etc are very important – and he goes on to suggest that we could use Conventions instead of Configurations (like Ruby on Rails does) towards this end. Its a great thought I believe.

However I donot believe IT is a commodity as of today – I wont explain that as Sadagopan has done a good job in articulating the same. He in fact actively opposes Nichola’s carr’s view that IT doesn’t matter. I am not sure that there are many analysts who dispute IT spending having their value Especially with IT being 50% of capex these days. Read the story here http://123suds.blogspot.com/2007/01/it-does-matter.html

However I strongly believe, that most things start tailor made and later bifurcate into commodity and designer ware. That is very likely to happen with IT as well. So commoditization is inevitable.

I am also a great believer in less code contributing to maintainability ( Rather than flexibility). So Personally I am not a big fan of excessive configurability ( as invariably it leads to lot more code – till you use rules engine) . Have a look at this interesting post here from Donald Ferguson – ex IBM, new Microsoft employee.
http://www-03.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/donferguson?entry=less_code

Similarly I am not a big fan of code generators – as once you customize the generated code, the code generators cannot help you. But I think the meta programming guys have cracked it. RoR is showing the way for meta programming. Java has a poor cousin with JSR 52 (Standard Tag library) – which is just a start, and that to behind its time. One wants a lot more. Similarly – I have seen in atleast two occasions on large projects in our company requring swing based forms – architects going in for meta-programming of those using XML based language they defined.

Using convention does make sense. Swedish, Arabic, Sanskrit and to some extent most languages allow you to join words and pre-fix/suffix part words to make new words which mean as much as sentenses. If we can learn that, conventions should come natural to us. Its a good thought and Sun, IBM, Oracle or whomsoevers job it is to drive Java these days – Please take notice.

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