|Whither Programmability? [OT]|
Message #10 Posted by John K. (US) on 14 Apr 2002, 11:30 p.m.,
in response to message #9 by Ellis Easley
[NB: Most of this is way off topic, so if that kind of thing bothers you, skip this post.]
> Regarding the cost premium for a programmable calculator, I wonder what cost was added to the Apple II, the TRS-80, the IBM PC to have Basic in ROM? Or to include Basic with MS-DOS? Back when people were sharing Microsoft Basic for CP/M, what was Microsoft charging for it?
My comment on the price premium was actually in reference to PDAs, but with a little fudging, it's still true for PCs. As I recall, when Microsoft first started selling their basic interpreter, they charged about $50 for the casette tape version (paper tape was, I believe, a little cheaper). I really don't know where Tandy got their BASIC, but I'm pretty sure Apple developed their version in-house, so it probably didn't cost them too much on a per-unit basis. I seem to recall that the license fee paid by IBM was in the $20-30 range per unit, plus some additional up-front development costs and an annual base fee to cover on-going development and support. It's hard to say with any authority.
Still, these were high-buck machines in their day ($1000-$2500) so the purchaser had already paid the premium for programmability -- even if it was never used. At that time, a decent scientific non-programmable was in the $30-50 range with programmables about running anywhere from $150 to $300. In terms of price premium as a percentage, programming languages were dirt cheap on the early home computers. Of course, this was in a day when the idea of selling software -- let alone an entire industry devoted to doing so -- sounded just a bit odd. After all, the real money is in the hardware, right? :^)
> I'm not familiar with AppleScript, is it something like MS-DOS batch files or Unix shell scripts? While that is also very good to have, I think it is more an adjunct than an alternative to a programming language.
It's really hard to describe AS without getting into the nuts and bolts of Mac OS interprocess communication. The closest thing I can think of is Tcl/Tk, but even that's not an exact fit. It is possible to create entire applications in AppleScript with full-featured GUIs and help systems, but I'm not sure why anyone would. If you're curious, you may want to take a look at Apple's AS page. In particular, the "Overview of AppleScript" section of the Language Guide contains a pretty good shotgun intro.
> I like to say I think of Debug as an environment.
Yeah, baby! Bare iron. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout! Structured programming is for wimps. ;^)
> I'm saying that no matter how powerful the operating system is, it should come with an easy to use, text oriented programming language. I understand most people will never use it, that's why it has to be small and inexpensive.
I agree. I also think that Ferrari and BMW should make inexpensive, easy to own sports cars. I'd order two. :^)
In all seriousness though, it would seem that they do. As you pointed out, QBasic is still available for Windows and every other OS that I can think of off the top of my head contains at least some form of scripting ability (and several contain full-blown IDEs with a serious set of tools) which might whet the appetite of a lucky few to explore further.
Unfortunately, as you point out, modern operating systems are complex and, if one wishes to write anything other than trivial code, a certain level of understanding must be achieved in the OS's run-time environment. There is just no way around it. Some RAD environments come close. Those are generally a good, low-impact way to start, but they tend to be a little to spendy to satisfy simple curiosity.
Ultimately, it comes down to money. Since the vast majority of owners will never, ever have the slightest inclination to program their systems, the folks who sell them don't feel particularly inclined to include a development system. Even basic, text-oriented environments require maintenance and at least some level of support. And "simple" and "easy-to-use" often translates into "complicated" and "maintenance-intensive" when it comes to creating a devlopment environment. Which translates directly into money. And every year the personal computer industry becomes more and more like a commodity industry -- the cheapest wins and quality takes a back seat to price.