Use Eiffel for OSS, Get The IDE for free

Eiffel Software, makers of the Eiffel programming language, have made their IDE EiffelStudio available under a "dual license." Use it for commercial software, pay; use it for OSS, get it for free. Interesting idea and a good opportunity to see why Eiffel is a well-respected language.

Well-respected, but never very popular. It's interesting to look at Eiffel as an example of a language that's failed to gain more than niche attention. Not that niches are necessarily bad -- ISE / Eiffel Software has been around since the early 90s and is based in Santa Barbara, which is certainly one of the nicest places in the world to live.

But why is Ruby (say) increasing in popularity while Eiffel doesn't show any signs of groundswell? It's not that Ruby's new -- it's been around for more than decade now. While programming languages often take several years to achieve popularity, Ruby is quite long in the tooth. I don't see in Ruby any particular features "whose time has come" the way that C++ and Smalltalk blossomed at the turn of the 90s as OOP came roaring into the mainstream.

There are 3 things that I think you could propose as reasons to explain Ruby's increase and Eiffel's "failure to achieve orbit":

  • explicit / implicit typing. I don't think this has much to do with it, but I'd be remiss not to mention it;
  • Rails. The console world had "Hello, World," the GUI world had the Rolodex form, and Rails has "scaffolding." While none of these are typical of day-to-day programming in that world, each is a heartening quick start that lifts the spirits of those immersed in that world. The Rolodex form was most impressive to people who hadn't mastered Win16 and led to the success of Visual Basic. Rails' "scaffolding" code is not going to get you through your project, but the impression it gives is much better than the impression of Visual Studio opening a blank Web page and saying "Drag components onto the form."
  • Pragmatic Programmers LLC. Bertrand Meyers "Object-Oriented Software Construction," is a book I keep as a definitive reference. But it's hardly a "fun" book to read and it wasn't followed up by a stream of other Eiffel-touting books. I think that Pragmatic Programmers and Ruby are in a feedback loop: the release of more Ruby books gives the impression of rapid growth which, in turn, attracts the attention of early adopters and younger programmers. You need a period of "rapid inflation" for a language to make it to the next level and I don't think Eiffel ever had that.

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p dir=ltr style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px"> Saying that a flurry of books is important to language popularity flies against the common wisdom that dead-tree publishing has become a lame duck. But if you went back two years, what would make you think that success would come to Ruby and not, say, Haskell (another language with a vocal Internet fanbase)? I don't think the answer is in the syntax of the languages.

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