Thursday, April 24, 2008

More on Value Added Tools

Today, I briefly worked with a colleague on a part of the system that uses a code generator. Such tools are sold primarily with a productivity spin, so I was quite interested to see for myself how it worked. Based on my previous posts, you will expect me to lambast the product and I certainly don't want to disappoint. Of course it did not deliver on its promises, but I want to think about why.

First of all, the language - it uses familiar languages, but not in a familiar way. Pieces of code are joined together using graphical tools, which is an alien metaphor for most developers, so it takes some time to figure out even the simplest thing. Even if you are used to other graphical tools, they are all built for specific purposes and share nothing in common.

Oddly enough, it would have been quicker to put code together with a very basic IDE using an editor only, than using allegedly simpler techniques. Perhaps that's unfair comparison though, because I would be relying on previous experiences.

Another issue I noticed was that there was no code completion or help inside a code block. This is a feature that I consider basic in any programming environment and I felt quite lost without it. Therefore much time was spent in web based documentation pages trying to figure out how to make it do what I wanted.

Then there are those little idiosyncrasies, how do I access a value in a field on a form was not quite so straightforward as one would think - in the context of our problem.

I did not spend as much time today as I would have liked to explore it a little more, so I will probably dive deeper tomorrow. For now though, I think my current feelings could be summed up as uncomfortable and clunky. If my opinions change drastically tomorrow I will report more.

Maybe non-programmers would be better suited to such graphical code generating tools? Anything is possible, but I doubt this - I had to call on my experience to figure out how to do things, so I think non-programmers would find it very difficult - then again that's just my opinion - as ever.

This is definitely something that I want to talk about further, I have a much better case in mind - just wanted to get some feedback on thoughts/experiences from others.

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