Wednesday, September 12, 2007

C in the future

During the last meeting of the Compiler's Reading Group (CRG) here at the University of Utah, the discussion moved to our future vision for users of the C language. The question put forth by Jay (if I remember correctly) was whether C (and C++) is going the way of Fortran, or if people will continue to use it as it is, or if people will use some "safe" variant of it. My advisor, John Regehr, asserted that both the first and third options will occur. Specifically, that C will become (it already has, to some degree) a niche and/or legacy language and that the version of it to be used will be made safe.

I think this answer will probably be correct eventually. It is supported by by Kathryn McKinley's talk from a few months ago. One poor student decided to take her on and say he did not believe that java garbage collection could do a better job than his own memory management. After some back and forth, she eventually said "you're wrong!" When it was her credibility vs. his, she wins. The point of that is programs have become so complex that a compiler usually beats the programmer. That makes languages which rely more on the compiler, like Java, seem a little more appealing and languages which give total control to the programmer, like C, seem a little more out-dated.

You may or may agree with this. My impulse is to fight long and hard against this. A lot of us like the "freedom" C gives us and hate having hands tied in any way. However, maybe the time has come to face the music and switch to another language...

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