Monday, January 20, 2014

The IDE called Forth, or.. Forth I wish I knew how to quit you.

I've been playing with OpenFirmware. Yep, booting it off of a thumb drive (via Grub2). It takes less than a second to boot on a "fast" laptop up to the Forth "ok" prompt.  At that point, I can start playing around with low level hardware.  Open Firmware went so far as to provide a "GNU readline" like capability where I can use Emacs-like command line editing and completion of words.

But, wait, there is no command manual!  What does this word do?  Enter "see" and the word you are interested in and view disassembled source code.

People (still) underestimate the innovations built into a "classic" Forth.   Gforth still has some classic capability built in.

Here is what I had with Forth during the 1980s (on Commodore 64 and then Atari ST):
  1. Full screen block editor.
  2. "See" or equivalent for looking at source.
  3. The ability to ask the block editor to locate the "real" source and let me edit it (i.e. Tags).
  4. The ability to play around with graphics and other hardware facilities.
  5. Very fast start up (or restart for when I crash the machine).
This was the basic Forth IDE.

I'm a long time Emacs user (25+ years)  and I still not at that same IDE productivity level I was with Forth back in the day.

Smalltalk (in particular Squeak) has been the only other things that has come as close (for me).

I know that machines are bigger and software is a lot more complex these days, but why can't I have that same feeling of "being one" with the machine?

Here is what I want:  I want to load up an interesting library (e.g. libpcap, OpenCV, etc) into a Forth (e.g. Gforth) and explore.  I want to play.  Lua, Perl and Python can get me half way there (i.e. bindings), but I still have to grapple with a REPL that doesn't seamlessly integrate with the editor.  

Yes, yes I know you can bend Vim or Emacs to do these things, but the resulting IDE isn't as natural (IMHO). You are still piecing together a generic editor, a command line (linux shell) and a programming language. (For example, how do you list a directory in the chosen language? Oh, you use the shell or editor? Are the results first class elements for the language?). 

Some would say that Visual Studio is a great example of a seamless IDE, but it is still working with a language that isn't naturally "interactive".

This is why I still hang onto Forth. It isn't about Forth building better apps. I don't care what an app is built in.   It isn't about the destination, its all about the journey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've got to build it yourself