Feeds

Boffins breed new programming race

Everyone's a coder

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Boost IT visibility and business value

ETech Does the world need more programmers? Of course, it does, says Jay Silver. Everyone should be a programmer.

That's not to say everyone should make their living as some sort of ponytail-ed, Python-obsessed shut-in. But just as everyone should know how to write, everyone should know how to program. And that's the computing Valhalla sought by Scratch, the MIT Media Lab project Silver flaunted this morning at the Emerging Technologies Conference in the heart of Silicon Valley.

"Should everyone be a writer? No, we need people to do all kinds of things," Silver tells The Reg. "But should everyone know how to write? Or, maybe even more importantly, should everyone have a situation when they could learn how to write and express themselves? I'm going to say 'Absolutely.' And I think Scratch offers the possibility that everyone can program, that everyone can express themselves through digital media creation."

Scratch is a (highly-)visual programming language aimed at the every man - even if the every man has yet to reach his ninth birthday. With this WYSIWYG environment - available as a free download here - you can piece together interactive digital apps in much the same way you'd piece together LEGOs. And that's not hyperbole. At a workshop this morning inside San Jose's Fairmount Hotel, more than a few programming novices built their own mini-apps in (literally) a matter of minutes.

scratch

Building apps from Scratch

Granted, these were exceedingly simple applications. Little more than a year into its launch, Scratch is focused on games and playful apps that revolve around images, animation, and music. But its building blocks - which can rightly be called building blocks - are remarkably intuitive. Five minutes after launching the environment for the first time, you can snap together an app that, say, pixelates a digital photo when you clap your hands.

"Scratch is tinkerable," says Silver. "The language is designed so that nothing ever breaks. Nothing never runs. You can learn things just trying to keep them in place...And we're willing to make design trade-offs to keep that. For instance, we don't do functions that can specifically take variables, because we haven't been able to design this in so that it would be completely intuitive."

Coded in Squeak SmallTalk - and compiled into Java for use on the web - Scratch is part of the default software build for the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) notebook cooked up by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. To date, more than 54,000 contributors have snapped together more than 350,000 apps, shared with world+dog via Scratch's YouTube-like app aggregator. Some contributors claim they're as young as four-years-old.

Whether they're lying about their age or not, Scratch is certainly intuitive enough for the precocious pre-schooler. The question is whether it's at such a high level of abstraction that it can no longer be called a programming language.

"When I first heard about Scratch, I hated it...I didn't like the idea of teaching kids how to program," says MIT's Seth Raphael, who now works on the project. "But this isn't a programming language. It's an environment where people can become creators of content for the internet. It's like crayons for the web. Though some people may disagree." ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Intel's Raspberry Pi rival Galileo can now run Windows
Behold the Internet of Things. Wintel Things
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Time to move away from Windows 7 ... whoa, whoa, who said anything about Windows 8?
Start migrating now to avoid another XPocalypse – Gartner
You'll find Yoda at the back of every IT conference
The piss always taking is he. Bastard the.
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.