Subject: Re: Is free software innovative ?
From: Ben_Tilly@trepp.com
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2000 13:00:48 -0500


Elaine -HFB- Ashton <elaine@chaos.wustl.edu> wrote:
> Ben_Tilly@trepp.com [Ben_Tilly@trepp.com] quoth:
> *>
> *>Perl was developed with CIA funding?  That is an interesting and
> *>IMO dubious claim!  Larry Wall did work at JPL for a bit, but AFAIK
> *>the bulk of Perl was done on his own time with his own energy.
>
> NSA actually, the 'blacker' project.
> http://history.perl.org and
> http://www.linux-mag.com/1999-10/uncultured_01.html

OK, but the bulk of Perl came after version 0.  Most certainly the
specifics I pointed to and claimed as innovative were not developed
at NSA.  Ss far as I still know, the majority of the work on Perl
was not done under the auspices of the US government.

> *>I leave it to your imagination how much taking out such patents
> *>would have dampened the popularity of Perl...
>
> It may have made it even more popular, but the set of people drawn to it
> would have een entirely different thus it wouldn't be the Perl we know
> today.

I suspect that the first person not drawn to it would have been one
Larry Wall, which would definitely make it not the Perl we know
today. :-)

One important point about free software and sharing.  Most software
is derivative.  Even software which can be called innovative is
typically highly derivative, and the derivative aspects are usually
its best features.  For instance the single best reason to use Perl
is CPAN.  But CPAN was deliberately designed as a rip-off of CTAN.

Likewise I confidently predict that any successful general purpose
scripting language will borrow the following ideas from Perl:

 - There is enough time in an interpreted langauge to have a
   proper compile phase
 - Perl compatible regular expressions
 - Hashing as a basic language feature and widely-used construct

Of course the basics of these all predate Perl.  But AFAIK Perl
was the first to put them all together in one package, and given
the success of Perl, future language designers will be under
pressure to implement them all.

In short, nobody consistently has ideas which are better than the
current state of the art, and it makes little sense to judge
software on the basis of how original or innovative it is.

Cheers,
Ben

PS Perl demonstrates both the good and bad of borrowing.  Why Perl
borrowed 'reset' from COBOL I will never understand...