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In response to my blog on Software Factories a young commentator wrote me:


I think the thesis is spot on, with the caveat that another axis of value–besides cheaply and quickly produced–is quality.  Programming without errors is very hard.  Most domains are actually pretty tolerant of errors.  But I think there’s an opening for ‘premium quality’ software.  Galois Inc., by all accounts, is an example of this.

I would also like to see some examples.  The idea of software factories isn’t one that needs anything other than market forces to get off the ground.  So I think the burden is on [Dan Gordon] to prove: a) why such factories don’t exist yet, given the claimed advantages, and b) why doesn’t he go into that business and rake it in?

Final point: It seems like the people who write the dsl’s would have to know quite a bit about the domain they’re writing their dsl for, which would sort of obviate the benefits of breaking up the labor like that.  Language design is notoriously hard, especially when you won’t actually be using the language you write.

Final final point:  Lisp’s ‘crown jewels’ are its fantastic capabilities with regard to DSLs.  I totall agree that DSLs are a good thing.

The question about lack of market is the heart of the matter.  If software factories are so productive, how come there aren’t lots of them?

The few DSLs I’ve seen out in the literature are academic exercises for the most part, and, like some XML languages, they are so detailed and so arcane that it would be a miracle if any other software group would ever use them.

Of course, XML is similar: a breakthrough idea for generating sublanguages, abused in many cases by overkill dialects which are impossible to use, but with many useful XML-based sublanguages out there doing a landoffice business.

Let me beg the market question a bit: the finest software minds of the current generation are not interested in solving the American productivity problem, but are interested in profiting from what I elsewhere call flash-fads, huge blockbuster moneymakers that last for the comparative blink of an eye but, like the Pet Rocks of my youth, make lots of money.

If I were starting up a startup (and I may someday yet again), I would give this serious consideration.

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About the author

an Gordon is Research Director for Valhalla Partners, a Northern Virginia venture capital firm. Dan has twenty-eight years experience working with technology, as a computer scientist, software developer, manager, analyst, and entrepreneur. Prior to joining Valhalla Partners, Dan was a Director and senior staff member at the PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Technology Centre, analyzing technology trends and consulting on technology-oriented strategies in the software, e-business, wireless, optical, networking, semiconductor IP, and life sciences arenas. He worked with clients from North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. Dan was a Contributing Writer and Contributing Editor to the Technology Centre’s annual Technology Forecast, and a frequent speaker at industry and general business meetings. Before joining PwC, Dan spent 20 years in Silicon Valley as a software technologist, manager, director, and entrepreneur, including senior technical roles at well-known Silicon Valley firms like Symantec, Intuit, and Oracle. Dan has also been involved in startup companies in the applied Artificial Intelligence and Web applications fields. Dan has a B.A. (cum laude) from Harvard University and an M.S. from New York University in Computer Science. He is a Professional Member of the IEEE and ACM. Dan lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two children.
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