Friday, 21 November 2008

Why programming is (comparatively) easy

I can't be the only person who frequently finds the command line not only more powerful but actually easier to use than the graphical alternative - and frequently finds that writing code is easier than using programmes other people have written.

Computers are pleasingly logical; if you know the right syntax you can (usually) guarantee that the computer will do exactly what you tell it to, no more and no less. Back in my childhood I used to write BASIC, and then we got Windows 3.1 and I learnt to boot into DOS if I wanted to be in control. Now I've grown up and moved across to Linux, where I know I can get a powerful terminal any time I want to do something complicated (knowing I can write shell scripts, Perl or Java as necessary).

Compare this to using a graphical interface that someone else has written. Now you have to second-guess the mindset of the person who wrote the GUI - if you use Microsoft products enough then you 'just know' what you're likely to find under the various menus, but even that doesn't seem to hold under Vista (which I've examined briefly on my husband's machine). I often feel I'm using more effort trying to work out other people's logic than it would take to simply write a script myself.

The classic example, for me, is MySpace. I signed up for an account about three years ago, but I couldn't figure out how to customise the layout... it was easier to just build a website from scratch! Someone later pointed out that I should have pasted a website's worth of HTML into the 'About Me' box, or somewhere equally unintuitive, but it was too late by then - I'd had enough of being made to feel stupid by someone else's design so I just walked away.

At least when programming, whatever the language, there's an underlying logic at the core (even if, as with Python, it's quite well hidden under layers of whitespace).

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