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10. Ancient Philosophers > Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor

Sir William of Occam was a monk who disdained ornate, elaborate explanations. His contribution to philosophy and science is known as Occam’s Razor, which says that given multiple explanations for something, the simplest is the most likely. Obviously, this ties in nicely with our discussion of essential versus accidental complexity. How far into the software stack this goes, however, is surprising.

As an industry, we’ve been engaged in an experiment for the last decade or so. This experiment started back in the mid to late ’90s, largely driven by the fact that the demand for software vastly outstripped the supply of people who could write it (this wasn’t a new problem—it’s been going on almost since the idea of business software started). The goal of the experiment: to create tools and environments that would allow average and/or mediocre developers to be productive, regardless of the messy facts already known by people like Fred Brooks (see his book The Mythical Man-Month [Addison-Wesley]). The reasoning was that if we could create languages that keep people out of trouble by restricting the damage they could do, we could produce software without having to pay those annoying software craftsmen ridiculous amounts of money (and you probably wouldn’t be able to find enough of them even then). This thinking gave us tools like dBASE, PowerBuilder, Clipper, and Access—the rise of the 4GLs (4th Generation Languages), which include tool/language combinations like FoxPro and Access.


  

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