Linus Torvalds, Visual Basic Fan

Stiff recently asked a few programmers a series of open-ended questions:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

“Guido Van Rossum, for example, comes across as kind of a jerk.”

Well, that tells me something about you.

Looking at his answers I can’t see how you would think that. Lack of “thoughtful responses”? Some guy sends him 10 questions from outta nowhere. You can’t really expect something specific.

I was mostly surprised by how different the answers were.

Linus is talking about VB 3! I myself was a firm C coder until VB added database capabilities with version 3. We used to say that there was only one C program ever written in Windows because from that point on everyone just copied the message loop and modified it. VB made the loop implicit but that was not enough to kill the database languages (FoxPro, DBase, and a host of others.) Version 3 drove a stake in all those languages and systems (where are they now?) And that was the biggest advancement I’ve seen in practical terms, databases for the masses, the programming equivalent of Lotus 1-2-3.

“Maybe the moral of this story is that we should value practical aspects of a language far more heavily than relatively meaningless technical merits.”

Maybe? Of course we should. The more I talk to other developers, the more I tire of their childish one-upmanship and snobbery. So you write everything in LISP and have memorised lots of algorithms? Great, but you take months to write buggy code which no-one else can read, no-one’s sure whether you understood the spec correctly (you didn’t) because you’re unable to talk to humans and yes, it does look like you shaved 10 microseconds off a 3 hour process by spending 2 days rewriting part of the compiler. Congratulations.

I think the moral of a story is this: every language has its positive and negative aspects. VB is only a bad language if it has a bad programmer behind it. C is only a good language if it has a good programmer behind it. Use the right tool for the right job.

If even Linus can find positives about VB, why not the rest of the “elite” Slashdot-type crowd?

If every developer always used what the market had available for him, the field wouldn’t have advanced at all. Even Visual Basic wouldn’t have been created.

It takes someone inspired like Linus Torvalds to advance the field. Some go the proprietary and niche routes, while others go the open source and mainstream routes.

Never underestimate an inspired person, even if you think you know him well. Motivation is everything.

Guess! VB was copied from Delphi, so dont c anything original in VB. But must agree the next level of programming that caught the imagination of young wannabe developers…

Ajo, VB was released in 1991, Delphi - in 1994.

And ‘basic’ was before visual basic… Without those languages DOS and the Commodore 64, Tandy, and IBM ATs and XTs, thousands of future developers would not have had anything to learn on. Those developers went on to implement the IT explosion in the nineties. I remeber when DOS 3.0 came out… we were STOKED about all the ‘new’ functionality. And we didn’t need $30,000 to get a machine to run it on!


Not quite. Delphi’s informal code name during development was “VB Killer”. :slight_smile:


Having read the referenced posting, I have no idea where your “kind of a jerk” assessment came from regarding Van Rossum. I don’t know him, but I would have guessed just the opposite – I detected a hint of self-deprecation.

I’ll hold my hand up as another VB basher.

Then again, I’ve long held that the popularity (and percieved strength) of a language is only as good as it’s most visible users.

Java - Gosling, enterprise
C - KR, 'nix
Lisp - Graham, ESR
VB - every joe blow trying to get his/her MSCE teens coming to code for the first time (like I did)

Great people, writing great code, making great things, drives a language forward and into the strong-languages-arena. Not so good people, not so good code… well, enough said. But that isn’t to say all the languages have their respective strengths and weaknesses - including VB.

I didn’t necessarily think Van Rossum was being a jerk. His responses seemed like the typical fare of people who generally prefer not to mince words, and particularly those who are engineering-minded. They desire specificity, simplicity, and economy… Often even in conversation.

Whether this is accurate to say of Van Rossum, I don’t know, because I’ve never met himi or seen him speak.

The latter of those two can be remedied with little effort, however, since he is a Googlite now. He has given a Google TechTalk about Python, available for free on Google Video:

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“Your questions are rather general and hard to answer. :slight_smile: I guess being able to cook an egg for breakfast is invaluable.”


– Guido Van Rossum

And all of his responses are one or two sentences at most. The other participants gave thoughtful, interesting answers to the same questions.

Add me to the list of people who doesn’t understand why you thought poor, maligned Guido was such a “jerk” for being brief. I went there expecting him to go on some sort of emotional tirade!! Even the stuff you have highlighted doesn’t sound too jerkish at all. Different strokes for different folks?

Well, he comes off slightly jerkish because while he takes the time to respond, he seems mocking in some responses. If he wasn’t interested, maybe he should have declined. If someone told me my words were going to be publicly posted as an interview, I’d have chosen them more carefully or declined.

But he did respond and I’m guessing Stiff isn’t complaining.

Chuck it up to him being Dutch. He’s got a sense of humor that’s great if you get it, but might come across as a bit of a jerk if you don’t share his kind of humor.

(And yeah, I’m Dutch too, so I dig his answers ;-))

I know that many consider VB to beneath them… and it is beneath the speaker, usually. However, VB allowed a whole now class of programmer. Bad programmers, I admit, but they were able to solve useful problems after a fashion.

The data binding capabilities of VB’s environment made it possible to do data driven screens with ease. The language was brain dead but easy enough for even a non programmer to pick up.

Most business problems are nothing more than data collection and reporting… so VB and Crystal Reports made it possible for junior grade programmers to solve real world business problems. It was to data collection and reporting what spreadsheets were to financial computation: an abstraction that didn’t require an “expert”.

The downside to not requiring an expert is you get amateurish results. In many cases for businesses, that was OK. VB added to the problem by not allowing advanced programmers to use the algorithms they were comfortable with due to language limitations. (You could write linked lists and such via references to objects, but it wasn’t… clean.) Today, such concerns evaporate with VB.NET, although I prefer C#'s syntax, being an old C jockey myself.

So at the end of the day “real” programmers scorned VB because of the limitations and the awful wrecks the amatures created. Yet, I can’t count the number of times those awful wrecks were better than the manual system that they replaced. When it was time for the solution to scale: well, that’s what the professionals are for… creating a “real” program that is designed correctly. What I find interesting is that for every program that a professional gets called in for, there are several that he never hears about that continue to chug along in their awful glory, solving a problem.

I get the impression that Torvald’s overall point is that there’s productivity in abstraction, which VB has offered to those who, er, don’t care to know the underlying details.

Have to agree with Jeff. Guido did come across as a jerk. If you’re going to answer a couple of questions, don’t waste the interviewer’s time with nonsensical answers. The questions were obviously programming related. If he was going to answer the questions, he should have given it more thought then the 2 seconds he gave trying to be obtuse.