Thursday, January 29, 2009

Charles Darwin and PHP

This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species (24 November 1859) and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth (12 February 1809). The BBC recently screened an absolutely fascinating program called "What Darwin Didn't Know". It is on iPlayer here although I'm not sure it is available outside of the UK - sorry if not!

What really struck me was not only his insight, but also how Darwin devoted an entire chapter to describe the difficulties of the theory! Remarkable as well how he accepted the theory was incomplete and asked for future generations to fill in the gaps.

All this got me thinking about applying the idea of natural selection to open source software. I was sure there must be an analogy for how open source projects grow and die that mimics the world of evolutionary biology. 

I also think natural selection provides a great explanation for why PHP is so hugely successful. I don't often hear people describe PHP as a pure and elegant programming language. A criticism that purists in the OOP world sometimes direct at us. 

But that is rather missing the point I think! PHP succeeds because it has evolved over a relatively long period of time to do things quickly, easily, and well.

Anyway, I set to task to find some prior art on this but my Googling didn't find any great matches. So my next thought was to ferret around and find some obsolete programming skills to show what has actually died out. 

Alas, as before, nothing quite hit the mark. I did however dig up this web site where people are documenting obsolete skills. The problem is that most of the obsolete skills listed turn out to either still be used, or staging comebacks in one form or another (such as putting a needle on a vinyl record)!

So if you do know of somewhere that talks about natural selection and open source software, please let me know.

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